2 Border Patrol agents sentenced to 24 months in prison

2013-11-13T00:00:00Z 2013-11-14T08:48:03Z 2 Border Patrol agents sentenced to 24 months in prisonBy Carmen Duarte Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Two Border Patrol agents, convicted in April of violating the civil rights of four drug smugglers, were sentenced to two years in prison on Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Jennifer G. Zipps in Tucson ordered Dario Castillo,  25, of Yuma, and Ramon Zuniga,  31, of San Luis, to turn themselves in to serve their sentences Jan. 14.

The two will also serve three years of supervised release once they complete their prison terms.

Both suspended agents will undergo an administrative process, “which may now proceed in light of their sentencing” regarding their employment, according to a statement by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It is not known when the process will be concluded.

On April 19, a federal jury in Tucson found Castillo guilty of four felony counts of deprivation of rights under color of law, and Zuniga guilty of four misdemeanor violations.

On the night of Nov. 12, 2008, Zuniga and Castillo were working out of a base of the Ajo station a few miles from the Mexico border.

Border Patrol Agent Aaron Veckey testified during the trial that he was on a hill when he spotted a group of smugglers carrying drugs on their backs in a wash.

About eight smugglers escaped, but four were caught by Castillo, Zuniga and two other agents.

Rather than arrest the Mexican smugglers, Castillo and Zuniga made them strip off their socks, shoes and jackets. Zuniga forced some of them to eat marijuana and ordered them to run away into the desert. The temperature was about 40 degrees.

The jury found Castillo guilty of setting fire to the smugglers’ belongings.

The four smugglers spent the night in the desert and were found the next morning by a tribal police officer.

U.S. Attorney John S. Leonardo said his office “will continue to hold accountable all federal law enforcement officers in Arizona who abuse their authority in violation of their oath of office.”

The agents’ attorneys could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at cduarte@azstarnet.com or 573-4104.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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