DRJ Pores Through the Border Patrol Trial Transcripts – Direct Examination of Jose Alonso Compean (Volume XIII)
The last witness of the trial takes the stand: Jose Alonso Compean.
From Transcript XIII:
Compean Witness #1 – Jose Alonso Compean:
Compean direct examination (by Chris Antcliff):
138 – Compean has been a Border Patrol agent for 6 years. He has been suspended without pay since May 2005.
138-139 – Compean is 29 years old. He is from El Paso and graduated from Del Valle High School in 1994. He has been married for 11 years and they have 2 children and 1 on the way.
139 – After high school, Compean attended El Paso Community College for one semester and then he joined the U.S. Navy. He was stationed in Corpus Christi TX for 3-1/2 years of his 4-year enlistment.
139-140 – Compean returned to El Paso in January 1999 when his enlistment ended. He worked several jobs for 6 months, and then he applied to and was accepted into the Border Patrol.
140-141 – Compean attended the Border Patrol academy in Charleston SC twice, in January 2000 and in mid-March 2000. Compean attended academy twice because the first time was interrupted when he returned to El Paso due to family concerns. His wife was 6 months pregnant and had to be induced early due to complications. He returned to the academy in March 2000 and stayed for 6 months.
141 – After completing his training at the academy, Compean was assigned to the Fabens station and served there his entire time with the Border Patrol.
141-142 – On February 17, 2005, around 1 PM, Compean was parked on the vega near the Grijalva headgates, which is 5-6 miles away from Jess Harris Road. Agent Mendoza was with Compean and they noticed something unusual. [The Court sustained a prosecution objection to testimony about what Mendoza did or thought after defense counsel stated he would “fix it,” presumably by restating his question.]
142-143 – Compean was parked on the vega and watched the river most of the day. The morning was windy and nothing happened. Just before 1 PM, Compean saw a small white sedan “on the Mexican levee, and it was riding very low. The trunk – there was something very heavy in the trunk. It was almost dragging. It was creating sparks on the levee.”
143 – Compean told Mendoza, “That’s probably going to be the load we’ve been waiting for, because the Mexican military usually patrols out there every morning, and they weren’t out there. We didn’t see them at all that day.” It’s unusual not to see the Mexican military. They had been patrolling different areas of the river, and especially this area, for the past 6 months. “They usually set up their tents, and they camp out there for the entire day on the riverbank.”
144 – Compean told Mendoza about the white car traveling low and Mendoza drove away towards one of the main roads. Compean parked his vehicle on the levee facing east toward the 76 sensors. Compean was driving a pickup truck with a drop-in unit like a holding cell.
144-145 – Compean watched the area through his binoculars. On his radio, he heard sector communications call out an activation on sensor 76 port 1. Compean looked north and didn’t see anything at first. About 15-20 seconds later, he saw a blue van leaving the area pretty fast. Compean called out “a blue van leaving the 76 area at a high rate of speed, or going fast. I don’t remember the exact words.”
145-146 – There were other Border Patrol agents working in Fabens that day. Compean expected them to head toward his area to assist after hearing his radio call. Compean believes the first person he heard was Juarez who was “near the Martinez orchard. I don’t remember exactly. But he said he was headed that way.”
146 – Compean did not call out a minivan.
146 – After Compean called out a blue van leaving the area and got a response, he switched the radio to direct and gave a better description of the vehicle. “I told them it was going to be a light blue van, maybe a gray van, but it was going to be a full-sized van.”
146 – Compean switched to the local radio because he knew agents were nearby and would be able to hear him. There was other radio traffic after that but Compean doesn’t remember what it was.
146-148 – Compean started driving toward the dirt road in the 76 area. He looked toward the south side of the river and saw 2 people climbing out of the river going towards Mexico, so he waited a few seconds looking for anyone else in the river area. Compean got out of his truck and looked in the ditch to make sure there weren’t any people in the [Sierra Delta] ditch. He didn’t see any people in the ditch but he did see water marks or drag marks.
148 – When Compean saw the drag marks, he figured this was a 10-46 so he called out a 10-46 on the radio.
148 – There are only 2 ways to go on that road – east or west. Compean thinks that Ramos radioed he was in town near the light [to the east] and was going to wait. Mendoza got off the levee and positioned himself so the west side was covered, but he never saw a vehicle head that way.
148-149 – Compean started driving east on the levee at a slow pace, around 20-30 mph, because the levee is a dangerous place to drive fast. There are rocks, gravel, and lots of ruts in the road. Compean didn’t see any more people.
149 – Compean heard Ramos or someone say the van was turning around and heading back south. Compean thought the van was going back to the 76 area, so he slowed down to listen and get a better direction. He heard someone say “We’re hitting the S curves.” [The Court sustained the prosecution’s objection based on vagueness as to who said what.]
150 – Compean clarified that Ramos said he was hitting the S curves. [The Court sustained the prosecution’s objection to Compean’s further answer based on narrative and nonresponsive. The Court suggested “But let’s try to break it down, because this is the whole long day on this. Okay?”]
150-151 – Compean heard Ramos call out he’s at the S curves. Compean continued east on the levee toward the Davis orchards, which are about a mile and a half from Jess Harris Road. Compean wasn’t sure if the van would drive back Jess Harris or the 76 road where he was first seen.
151 – Compean continued monitoring the radio traffic and determined the van wasn’t going back to the 76 when he heard Ramos say “We’re going south on Jess Harris.” When he heard that, Compean continued going east. Compean heard Ramos say he was passing Island Road and then he knew they were going to go down Jess Harris to the ditch, so he continued east toward Jess Harris.
151 – When he arrived at Jess Harris, Compean parked his vehicle facing east on the levee on the east side of the road – not in the center of the road. He could see Jess Harris Road from there.
151-152 – Compean did not see anybody at first. He heard Ramos on the radio say “He just hit the dirt road.” Compean looked north and still didn’t see the van. Compean stayed in his vehicle for a few more seconds until he saw a big dust trail and saw the van heading south.
152 – When he saw the van, Compean exited his vehicle with his shotgun and walked to the end of the drainage ditch. He took his shotgun because he knew from the radio traffic that the driver was going back south, but he didn’t know what his intentions were.
152 – Compean has had experience catching other drug smugglers in the Fabens area.
152-153 – Compean waited on the levee for the driver to get to the ditch. He waited approximately 15-20 seconds.
153 – Compean saw the driver arrive: “When he started — he was maybe about 10 to 15 feet away from the — from the edge of the ditch. I saw the driver’s side door open, and I observed him jump out [of a moving vehicle].” He took 4-5 steps on the road and climbed straight into the ditch. He was on the driver’s side of the van.
153 – Compean pointed his shotgun at the driver and yelled at him to stop and put his hands up. Compean did not yell obscenities at the driver.
154 – The driver first saw Compean before he jumped out of the van: “He looked at me. I saw him. He opened the door, and then he jumped out. That was the first time he saw me.”
154 – The driver looked at Compean again after he entered the ditch: “When he got into the ditch, he put his hands up, and he looked at me. And I thought that was going to be the end of it, because I heard units already on the way. And I thought he was going to surrender right there.” The driver was on the north side of the ditch, right on the edge, as he was just climbing in. Compean was on the south side on the edge of the ditch – not in the ditch.
155 – The driver continued to walk down the ditch. Compean “repeatedly told him to stop and put his hands up, over and over. He still was not obeying my commands.” The driver put his hands up when he first got in the ditch but then he put them down: “He looked up at me, he saw me. He put his hands back down, and then he started walking inside the ditch.”
155 – The driver walked to the edge of the water, directly across from Compean. Compean saw him look back and then he looked at Compean again and went through the water.
155 – At first, Compean thought the driver was going to surrender when he put his hands up, but he did not surrender.
155-156 – The driver walked straight toward Compean to the other edge of the water and then he ran off to the right. The driver was moving fast and trying to get around Compean.
156 – Compean saw an agent but he couldn’t tell who it was. Compean was looking down at the driver and all he saw was up to the agent’s waist.
156 – Compean followed the driver after he ran to the side, and Compean was still directly in front of the driver. Compean told him repeatedly to “Stop, put your hands up” but he did not. The driver ran the opposite direction. The driver did not touch Compean at that time.
156-157 – [Compean took GOV EXH 13, the shotgun, and demonstrated how he was holding it.] When the driver first got out of the van, Compean pointed the shotgun at the driver the whole time. His finger was on the trigger. Later, when the driver was about 3 feet away, Compean stopped pointing the shotgun at the driver. Compean pulled the shotgun back to keep it away from the driver as he approached Compean.
157 – Compean repeatedly told the driver to “Stop, put your hands up.” The driver put his hands up but Compean thought he was still coming at him.
157-158 – Compean did not have both hands on the barrel at that point. He never held the gun by the barrel.
158 – Compean did not try to butt stroke the driver. He was trying to push him back into the ditch. [Compean demonstrated how he tried to push the driver into the ditch: “I was standing like this (indicating), and I took a step forward this way (indicating).”]
[NOTE from DRJ: It’s not clear from the transcript what Compean demonstrated.]
158 – As he tried to push the driver into the ditch, Compean lost his footing and slipped into the ditch. He didn’t fall all the way in. He came down on one knee.
158 – Compean tried to push the driver back in the ditch because Compean, being on the higher ground, had the advantage.
158-159 – After Compean fell to one knee on the edge of the ditch, the driver ran around Compean and started climbing out of the ditch. The driver ran to Compean’s left. Compean stood up and threw his shotgun on the ground and ran after the driver. He threw his shotgun down because it gave him a better chance of catching the driver.
159 – Compean didn’t think it was dangerous to leave his shotgun on the ground because he knew there were other agents there. He thought the agents would cross the ditch and help him apprehend the driver.
159 – There wasn’t anyone else on Compean’s side of the ditch at this time.
159-160 – On the south edge of the levee, right before the slope, Compean was able to grab the back of the driver’s shirt and tried to pull him back but he was too strong so Compean jumped on him. He tackled the driver and they both tumbled down the slope. They rolled down to the ground and when they stopped moving, Compean was able to grasp the driver’s ankle. Compean tried to hold on because he hoped the other agents would come help apprehend the driver.
160-161 – Compean was unable to hold onto the driver. They were both on the ground. As the driver tried to stand up, he put what Compean thought was his left hand in Compean’s face and pushed or threw dirt into Compean’s face to try to get away. When he did this, Compean instinctively let go of the driver’s leg and tried to shield his eyes from the dirt.
161 – Compean saw the driver run at about a 45-degree angle to the left heading to the river.
161 – Compean did not get up at first because, as soon as he let go of the driver’s ankle, he reached down to protect his weapon because he didn’t know if the driver might try to take his weapon.
161-162 – The driver started running, and Compean looked up and saw him running: “A few seconds later I saw him turn around, and he was pointing — he was pointing something at me.” [Compean demonstrated for the jury what the driver did.]
162 – Compean couldn’t tell for sure if the driver had a gun in his hand but it looked like a gun to him. The driver had something black and shiny in his hand. Compean was in fear for his life at that moment.
162-163 – Compean was down on 2 knees. He immediately drew his weapon and came up on one knee and began firing. He believes he fired 10 or 11 rounds because his “gun never went empty, so it couldn’t have been more than 12.” The magazine of his gun holds 11 rounds and there’s one in the chamber.
163 – Compean did not think he hit the driver because he continued running and he was still pointing.
163-164 – Compean tried to reload his weapon. He released the magazine and reached down for a second magazine but couldn’t get his belt open, so he stood up and then he heard another shot. He looked over and saw Ramos standing a few feet ahead of him. Compean had not seen Ramos run past him.
164 – Compean did not see Ramos shoot but he heard the shot, looked over, and saw Ramos standing there.
164 – Compean finished loading the magazine in his gun and walked slowly toward Ramos. Compean never saw the driver after that. Before that, he last saw the driver near the edge of the river but he was gone when Compean looked again.
164-165 – Ramos and Compean kept their weapons pointed toward the river the whole time they were looking for the driver. They didn’t holster their weapons until they saw the driver was out of the area.
165 – Ramos asked Compean if he was okay. Then they turned around and started walking back up. Compean stopped a couple of times and looked south for the driver, to see if he was coming back or going to do anything else.
165-166 – [Compean explained why he picked up the shell casings:]
“A. And on my way up, I just — I looked down. I looked down on the ground in front of me, and I saw some casings, and I picked them up.
Q. Why on earth would you pick up those casings?
A. I just wasn’t thinking. I just — I just saw them there, and I picked them up.
Q. Had you ever discharged your firearm in the line of duty before?
A. Only at the firing range.
Q. When you qualify?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. And when was the last time you had qualified?
A. I believe it was the day before.
Q. What do you do with your brass at the range?
A. We pick it up.
Q. Is — and that’s — February 17th, 2005, was that the only time that — other than the qualifying — that you had discharged your gun in the line of duty?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. What do you do with the brass?
A. I — I had it in my hand. I started walking up towards the levee. I looked down. I saw them. I had them in my hand, and I just tossed him into the ditch.
Q. Were you scared?
A. I wasn’t thinking about anything at the time. I just – I just looked down, I saw them. I — I didn’t — I just noticed them there, and I just tossed them in.
Q. Okay. While this is happening and you’re shooting, and Agent Ramos shoots, are you scared?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Were you — were you hurt?
A. I was shook up.”
166-167 – Talking across the ditch, Compean asked Juarez if he had his shotgun, but he did not. Compean asked Juarez where his shotgun was and Juarez pointed to the edge of the ditch. Compean went down, picked up his shotgun, and took it back to his vehicle to secure it. He didn’t talk to anyone else at that time. About that time, Yrigoyen was getting out of his truck and walked up to Compean as he secured his shotgun.
167 – Yrigoyen asked Compean if he was okay and Compean said, “Yeah, I’m okay. I got some — I had some dirt in my face, thrown in my face. And I said, But I’m okay.”
168 – Dirt was thrown in Compean’s face and it was not an accident.
168 – Compean also talked to Richards, who was standing on the north edge of the ditch near the passenger side of the van. Richards said, “Joe, are you okay?” and Compean said, “I’m okay. I’ve got a cut on my hand, and I think on my chin.” Compean said this because “Agent Yrigoyen, when he walked up to me, he mentioned it to me. He mentioned the cuts.” Richards told Compean to go back to the station to process.
168-169 – Compean did not tell Richards at that moment that he had fired his gun because he was afraid Richards wasn’t going to believe him: “… well, with what had happened, and with me telling him what had occurred, I didn’t think he would believe me. We didn’t have a suspect. There is nobody to, I guess, corroborate what had happened or what had occurred.”
169-170 – Compean got in his vehicle drove back to the CC Bills gate. Vasquez was coming up the levee and Compean was coming down. The gate was unlocked when Compean got there. Compean doesn’t know who unlocked it but Vasquez was already on the north side coming up the levee. They were both driving their vehicles, and they parked alongside each other.
170 – Vasquez asked Compean either “What happened?” or “I heard some shots.” Compean told Vasquez he had to fire some rounds. Compean did not say “That little bitch took me down.” Compean told Vasquez he wrestled with the driver of the van and fired some rounds. Vasquez asked how many founds Compean fired and he told him he wasn’t sure – 10 or 11. Compean was holding extra rounds at the time and reloading his magazine.
170-171 – [Compean explained the difference between a round and a casing:] “A round is the bullet with the gunpowder, and the casing is just the shell without the bullet or the powder.” Compean did not have any casings in his hand when he talked to Vasquez. Compean isn’t sure how many rounds he had in his hand because he didn’t count them.
171 – Vasquez also asked Compean, “Did you reload?” and Compean replied, “Yes, I did” because he had already reloaded a fresh magazine when he got off the levee. Compean did not fire any of the rounds from the second magazine at the driver.
171 – Compean didn’t reload until he stopped to talk to Vasquez at the CC Bills gate. He reloaded his empty magazine as he talked to Vasquez. Compean never showed Vasquez any empty casings on that day.
172 – Richards radioed Vasquez to get on the levee and wait for the tow truck to arrive. Compean heard it on his radio in his vehicle. Compean mentioned to Vasquez, “If you’re going to be up there, you’re probably going to see some casings up there.” Compean did not ask Vasquez to let him know if he saw the casings, he just told Vasquez that he was going to see them up there.
172-173 – Vasquez called Compean later when he was at the station processing and said, “I found five. I picked up five and threw them in the ditch.” Compean had not asked Vasquez to call him and did not ask him to throw away any casings.
173 – Compean did not see Ramos pick up any casings.
173 – At the station, Compean went straight to the bathroom to wash his cut and clean up. He does not remember a conversation when he came out of the bathroom. It could have happened but he doesn’t remember it.
173-174 – Compean remembers a conversation at the station with his supervisors in the processing area. Compean was in front of the computer working on the I-44. Richards walked up a few feet away and asked, “Joe, are you sure you weren’t assaulted? Because if you were, then I’m going to have to do an SIR, and then I’m going to have to call the FBI, and then they’re going to have to come down here and interview everybody that was out here, and we’re going to be here for a long time.” Compean took that to mean Richards didn’t want Compean to say yes, so Compean said, “I’m fine. I’m okay.”
174 – Compean did not have any other conversations at the station with his supervisors.
174 – Arnold may have been present when Compean talked to Richards. Compean doesn’t remember seeing him but he may have been standing nearby. Compean did not talk with Arnold.
174-175 – Compean does not believe he did anything wrong with respect to the shooting. If he had it to do over again, he would report the assault and the shooting.
175 – Compean did not think he or Ramos had hit the driver. Compean saw the driver climb out and it looked like he was limping. The driver jumped out the van while it was still moving. Compean has “seen them hit the windshield and break through the glass, come out on the other side, out of the vehicle, and they still run south. So I wasn’t sure.” Things happened pretty fast out there that day, but things also “somewhat” slowed down.
175-176 – After talking with Richards at the station and while he was working on the I-44, Jacquez asked Compean what happened. Compean told Jacquez he got in a wrestling match with the driver and that he had to fire some shots. Jacquez asked if they had shot at anyone and “that’s when I told him — and then I told him, I tried to push him down with the shotgun. I was trying to keep him in, before — when he went around me.” Compean did not tell Jacquez he tried to butt stroke the driver.
176 – On February 17, Compean saw “On the north side there was, I believe, Agent Vasquez, Agent Juarez, Agent Ramos, I believe Agent Mendoza. And Agent Jacquez arrived once I was already on the other side of the levee. I think they were the last ones there. And FOS Richards and Supervisor Arnold. But I don’t remember seeing him out there.”
176-177 – Compean knew there was another agent out there when the driver was in the ditch, but he was focused on the driver and didn’t see who it was. Compean assumed Ramos was the first one there because he was the first unit behind the driver. Compean only saw the legs of one other agent that day.
177 – Compean did not see anybody else point a weapon at the driver that day.
177-178 – In March, a little before midnight, the OIG and 2 police officers came to Compean’s home to arrest him. They went to the OIG office and Compean agreed to talk without an attorney present. He agreed to talk because he did nothing wrong and had nothing to hide.
178 – Compean gave his written statement around 1 AM. He’s not sure of the exact time. After that, it took 30 minutes to take Compean’s fingerprints and photos.
178-179 – [The prosecution pointed out differences in Compean’s oral and written statements, and Compean explained them:]
“Q. Did you think that the driver was going to surrender at any point after he first raised his hands?
A. That first time I — as soon as — when he got out of the van, I did.
Q. After that?
Q. Did he ever raise his hands in surrender again?
A. No, sir. He raised up his hands, but it looked like he was coming at me.
Q. Did he ever say anything to you?
A. He said, No me pegues. I believe he said it twice.
Q. And that was in response to what?
A. I heard someone behind him yelling, Hit him.
Q. Do you know who that was?
A. No, sir, I do not.
Q. Did you ever hit him?
A. No, sir, I did not.
Q. What did you do?
A. That’s when — it was a few seconds later when I tried pushing him off, as he was coming up towards me again.”
179 – Compean did not tell Vasquez or Jacquez not to report the shooting.
Ramos examination (by Stephen G. Peters):
180 – Compean doesn’t know if Ramos saw him picking up the brass. Ramos was walking ahead of Compean as he picked up the brass.
180 – Compean never heard Ramos tell anyone not to report the shooting, and Ramos did not tell Compean not to report the shooting. Ramos never raised the question or discussed with Compean, after the fact, whether or not the shooting had been reported.
Government cross-examination (by Jose Luis Gonzalez): Continued in next post.