TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) - Two U.S. Border Patrol agents could go to prison for forcing drug smugglers to eat marijuana, burning their shoes and clothes, and stranding them in the desert.
U.S. District Judge Jennifer Zipps convicted the suspended federal agents on Friday after an 11-day bench trial in Tucson. Zipps found Dario Castillo, 25, guilty of four felony counts of deprivation of rights under color of law, and Ramon Zuniga, 31, guilty of four misdemeanor counts of the same law.
On the night of Nov. 12, 2008, Zuniga and Castillo tracked and apprehended a group of illegal border-crossers carrying large backpacks containing bales of marijuana. 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 of them, and proceeded to shove it into the suspects' mouths yelling "comatela," which means "eat it" in Spanish.
The agents next ordered the suspects to remove their shoes, socks, jackets and extra shirts, leaving them thinly clothed and barefoot in the cold November night. Castillo then 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.
Castillo faces a maximum of 10 years in federal prison for the felony convictions and a $250,000 fine, or both. For his misdemeanor conviction, Zuniga could go to prison for a year and be fined $100,000, or both.
Sentencing is set before Judge Zipps on July 1.
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.