Border Patrol agents Dario Castillo, 25, and Ramon Zuniga, 31, were sentenced to two years in federal prison for abusing suspected drug smugglers and force-feeding them marijuana. Both men were terminated after the incident.
In an Arizona court, the ex-agents claimed that they were exhausted and suffering from anxiety due to extended work hours when they committed the offense.
“I allowed these individuals to get the best of me that night,” said Zuniga. “I’ve regretted those actions every single day for the past five years.”
The crime occurred in 2008 after a fellow agent saw some people asleep in a dry streambed. He called for backup, and Castillo and Zuniga responded.
Although there were 20 suspects altogether, all but four escaped into the darkness. They left 21 packages of marijuana at the scene, thought to be worth about $600,000.
The agents took the four men’s jackets and shoes from them, which is typical in arrests of multiple suspects who could potentially overpower authorities.
The actions that followed, however, were not standard procedure at all. The agents started a fire and burned the suspects’ possessions. Next, they forced three men to get down on their knees, handcuffed, and chew on handfuls of pot. The agents then told the suspects to run away barefoot into the cold night.
The next morning, tribal police from a nearby reservation found the suspects. They were eventually handed over to the Border Patrol; it was then that the abused men reported their story.
Zuniga was convicted of four misdemeanor counts for feeding the men marijuana, and Castillo was convicted of four felonies for starting a fire and igniting the men’s possessions.
Although Zuniga only faced a maximum of four years in prison while Castillo faced a maximum of 40 years, Judge Jennifer Zipps thought it was fair to give them both the same sentence of 2 years each.