Badges of Dishonor

On a desolate stretch of the Rio Grande, two Border Patrol agents chased a fleeing suspect and opened fire, wounding him from behind. But they didn’t arrest him, and they didn’t report the shooting to their supervisors. In fact, they covered it up. So why are they being celebrated as heroes?
Images of Jose Alonso Compean and Ignacio Ramos on an episode of Lou Dobbs Tonight.
Photograph by Sarah Wilson

Before the case of Border Patrol agents Ignacio “Nacho” Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean became a cause célèbre—that is, before there were calls for congressional hearings, high-level resignations at the Department of Justice, and presidential pardons—it almost didn’t make the newspaper at all. The facts of the story might never have come to light if not for a phone call between two middle-aged women who had grown up together in a village in Mexico. In late February 2005 Macaria Aldrete-Davila called her old friend Gregoria Toquinto from her home in Chihuahua and said that her son had crossed into the United States illegally near the West Texas town of Fabens. Border Patrol agents had pursued him, and he had fled on foot. An agent had shot him in the backside as he ran from them, toward the Rio Grande. Her son had managed to limp back to Mexico, but he still had a bullet lodged in his groin and was in need of medical attention. Gregoria, who was living in El Paso, listened to her friend’s story. Then she called her son-in-law, who happened to be a Border Patrol agent.

So began a Department of Homeland Security internal investigation that uncovered what appeared to be a straightforward case of two federal agents shooting at a man as he ran away and then concealing their actions. Investigators found that Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila had put his hands in the air and tried to surrender, but Compean—instead of apprehending him—had swung at him with the butt of his shotgun. Aldrete-Davila had bolted, and as he

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