TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) - Two Border Patrol agents will spend the next two years in federal prison after forcing migrants to eat marijuana and spend the night in the desert without shoes, socks and coats.
U.S. District Judge Jennifer Zipps sentenced suspended agents Dario Castillo and Ramon Zuniga to 24 months behind bars Tuesday. The pair also face three years of supervised release for an incident that occurred in desert south of Tucson in 2008.
According to evidence presented by federal prosecutors at trial, Zuniga and Castillo tracked and apprehended a group of illegal border-crossers carrying large backpacks containing bales of marijuana on the night of Nov. 12 of that year. While most of the suspects fled, the agents caught four of the alleged smugglers and searched them. Zuniga found a small baggie of "personal-use" marijuana on one detainee, and proceeded to shove it into the suspects' mouths yelling "comatela," which means "eat it" in Spanish.
The agents then ordered the suspects to remove their shoes, socks, jackets and extra shirts, leaving them thinly clothed and barefoot. Castillo borrowed a lighter from another agent at the scene, built a fire out of the shoes and clothing, and told the suspects to run away into the desert, prosecutors said. The four victims spent the night in the desert and were rescued the next morning by a tribal police officer.
A jury found Zuniga, 31, and Castillo, 25, guilty of deprivation of rights under color of law after a trial in April.
"The United States Attorney's Office will continue to hold accountable all federal law enforcement officers in Arizona who abuse their authority in violation of their oath of office," U.S. Attorney John Leonardo said in a statement. "Violations of the law by those sworn to enforce it undermine public confidence in the entire criminal justice system and will not be tolerated. The sentences imposed today reinforce the fundamental principle that no one, including a law enforcement officer, is above the law."
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