How Ginned-Up Outrage Turned Two Border Patrol Agents Into Right-Wing Heroes

The fallout from a February 2005 extrajudicial shooting by two U.S. Border Patrol agents was picked up as a source of outrage by right-wing media personalities two years later.

Jose Alonso Compeán and Ignacio Ramos were convicted in 2006 for charges including discharge of a firearm in commission of a crime of violence for shooting Osvaldo Aldrete Davila near the border between the U.S. and Mexico and then covering it up. As Texas Monthly reported a year later:

Investigators found that [Aldrete-Davila] had put his hands in the air and tried to surrender, but Compeán—instead of apprehending him—had swung at him with the butt of his shotgun. Aldrete-Davila had bolted, and as he ran, Compean and Ramos had fired at him fifteen times, with Compeán stopping to reload his Beretta as he tried to hit his mark. Neither agent announced the shooting over the radio or informed his supervisor of what had happened; the official report about the pursuit made no mention of their firing their weapons. And rather than secure the area so that evidence could be preserved, Compean had retrieved most of his spent shell casings and tossed them into a ditch.

The two former agents’ convictions was quickly turned into an anti-government cause, thanks in part to a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed that formed the basis for an online copypasta post:

Due to a case of blind and bloodthirsty federal prosecutorial overkill, Ramos and Compeán were sentenced to 11 years and 12 years respectively. Oh, and the smuggler was granted immunity for the 743 pounds of pot, and is suing the federal government for $5 million. Crime pays, while going after criminals can land you hard time in prison.

As the Tribune reported, Aldrete-Davila was granted immunity after investigators determined that there was no evidence connecting him to the crime of transporting the marijuana:

Without a suspect in custody, the case had never been treated as an active investigation; the van had not initially been analyzed for fingerprints, and the marijuana had been destroyed. Any case brought against him—if he could be extradited from Mexico—would have to rely on the testimony of the two agents, who the prosecution’s own evidence showed were hardly credible witnesses.

Anti-immigrant presenter Lou Dobbs, then working for CNN, also took up the campaign criticizing the agents’ conviction, describing the area where the shooting took place as “a war zone.” As Salon later reported, the agents’ families tapped a John Birch Society member, Andy Ramirez, as their spokesperson; other supporters included conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi. Many accounts defending the agents also failed to mention Ramos’ past issues:

Ramos was once suspended from the Border Patrol for not reporting the second of three separate assault arrests. All assault charges were dropped, but his wife did obtain an emergency protection order against him.

A federal appeals court upheld the sentences of Compeán and Ramos in July 2008, but then-President George W. Bush commuted their sentences in January 2009, shortly before he was succeeded in office by Barack Obama, allowing them to be released the following month.

Similarly, then-President Donald Trump — who built his political career on anti-immigrant rhetoric — pardoned the two ex-agents in December 2020, a month after he lost that year’s presidential election to current President Joe Biden.

The question of cover-ups within the Border Patrol’s overseeing agency, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), was brought back to the surface in April 2023 after Brian Sulc, an official monitoring “cross-border threats” for the agency’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, was placed under investigation for “bringing a personal electronic device” into agency offices, which violates DHS rules.

“He is a big deal,” an unidentified source told Rolling Stone. “He does the border, all the big issues and crises. This is why this is all so shocking.”

Update 4/20/2023, 4:21 p.m. PST: This article has been revamped and updated. You can review the original here. — ag