Sean Hannity isn’t one of my favorite conservative talking heads. He has some good points, but he functions off of an anger and emotionalism that stops just short of (or maybe drifts over into) demagoguery. I thought this was very clearly displayed in his attack last night on Johnny Sutton, the U.S. Attorney out of Houston who obtained the conviction of two federal border guards who illegally shot a drug smuggler and then tried to cover up what they did:
As it is, I think Johnny handled himself very well in response to the attacks. He kept to a few important points, although I think he could have touched more upon a larger issue. His factual points were that Congress (not the federal prosecutors) makes the laws. The evidence showed that the border guards violated these laws. The evidence also showed that these same guards, knowing that they violated the laws, made every effort to cover up their wrongdoing.
The evidence also showed that these were not picayune little procedural laws, where either their violation or a subsequent cover-up might have been sloughed off with a hand-slap. Instead, these border guys went into Wild West vigilante mode and attempted to kill someone. I can certainly understand the guards’ frustration with the limitations Congress has placed upon them, but if they’re going to commit what they’re now trying to style as an act of civil disobedience, the principles of civil disobedience demand that they take the consequences and become martyrs to a larger cause. Johnny’s role is unchanged — assemble the evidence, see if it stands up to legal scrutiny and, if it doesn’t, prosecute. Those were all points Johnny made, and made well.
The larger issue is the fact that we, as a civilized society, need to ensure that, just as we give our police forces great power (and anyone who has been stopped for a traffic violation understands just how great that power is), we also need to ensure that our police forces never overstep that power. If they do so, we veer from a Constitutional democracy into a very scary police state. We also impair the integrity of all of our police forces if the public perceives a large segment of those forces as running amok with corrupt, vigilante justice. (Think of the L.A. Police Department, and how the public perception about its corruption helped shape the OJ trial.)
Lest you think I’m just talking technical lawyer talk here, I’m not. Over at Hot Air, you can also read a pretty good review of Johnny’s reasoning:
Whether you like it or not, Sutton is right that Agents Ramos and Compean were tried and convicted on the issues. The verdict shows that the jury did not believe the drug smuggler had a gun, or did anything threatening enough to justify the shooting.
Contrary to the belief of some, Johnny Sutton is not just out to nail any Border Patrol Agent who fires a gun. Border Patrol Agents in his district frequently engage in shootings, yet prosecutions like this are very rare. Ramos and Compean were prosecuted because their subsequent behavior showed that they didn’t think their shooting was justified.
If Ramos and Compean were the model Border Patrol agents their supporters make them out to be, there is no reason for them to have covered up this shooting. They picked up their casings and didn’t tell supervisors about the shooting. They had a chance to provide an innocent explanation for this damning behavior at trial — and they failed. A jury of twelve people concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that they were guilty.
Some say that any drug smuggler must be armed. But Sutton noted in his testimony yesterday:
From January 2004 through March 2005, there were 155 drug seizures at the Fabens Border Patrol Station, totaling over 43,000 pounds of marijuana. In none of those seizures was a gun found. Over the longer period between October 1, 2001, and February 15, 2006, the Fabens Border Patrol Station reported the seizure of only one firearm from a total of 496 drug seizures, totaling more than 131,000 pounds of marijuana. . . . The fact is that drug mules in El Paso almost never carry guns.
I’ll twist the knife further. You’re upset that the drug smuggler wasn’t prosecuted? Blame Ramos and Compean. As Sutton makes clear, if they’d done their jobs properly, perhaps the smuggler could have been prosecuted after all.
Hot Air has some bones to pick with Johnny, and ends up rhetorically throwing him to the wolves anyway, but I continue to believe that Johnny is right: the rule of law, which is the unpinning of our society, is nothing if we let our police be at the forefront of abandoning that rule.
The one other thing I can throw in is that Johnny is an all around good guy, completely decent, and conservative to the bone. Based on his personality and values alone, if he thought this was a case worthy of prosecution, I’m going to trust his instincts.