Hernandez is released
By Glenn Willeford / Special to the Avalanche
ROCKSPRINGS - It isn't every day one sees crusty ranchmen wiping tears off their faces. Last Saturday was an exception.
The courthouse square of Edwards County was swollen with people by 5 p.m. One and all awaited the arrival of Rocksprings favorite son Guillermo "Gilmer" L. Hernandez, who had been released from a federal penitentiary earlier in the week.
Rocksprings, the seat of a wool- and mohair-raising county on the western extremity of the Texas Hill Country, had turned out to welcome him home after he served 10 months of a one-year-plus-one-day sentence for violating the civil rights of an illegal immigrant during the course of his duties as deputy sheriff.
Hernandez, who was seated on the back of a flatbed truck holding his small daughter, smiled broadly at the cheers and tears that greeted his arrival about a quarter hour later. As he and his family of three approached the crowd, a cheer went up and the hugs began. Carolyn Anderson, co-publisher of The Rocksprings Record, probably spoke for them all when she said Gilmer had simply been "out doing his job." And then "this" happened.
Just before midnight on April 4, 2005, as Hernandez was preparing to go off duty, a Chevrolet Suburban ran a stop sign at the main intersection in Rocksprings. Hernandez activated his red lights and pursued the vehicle past the edge of town where the SUV stopped.
As the deputy approached the blue Suburban, he said he noticed there were a number of people inside who appeared to be hiding. Hernandez asked the driver to step out, at which time he accelerated and swerved to hit the officer while speeding away.
Hernandez drew his sidearm and fired four shots at one of the tires. His aim was true, and the tire flattened as the Suburban careened away and finally came to a stop several hundred yards up the highway.
The driver and eight occupants fled into the night. One occupant, however, Maricela Rodriguez G., an illegal immigrant who Hernandez says was being smuggled into Texas, had been hit in the mouth by a bullet fragment and had a tooth dislodged. She was transported to an area hospital, treated and released into the custody of her husband, a Texas resident.
Edwards County Sheriff Don G. Letsinger requested an interagency investigation to be conducted by the Texas Department of Public Safety. That investigation concluded that Hernandez did nothing wrong. Nonetheless, the Mexican consul lodged a complaint.
U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, an appointee of President George W. Bush, ordered Hernandez's arrest. Sutton offered Hernandez a three-year sentence, probated; nevertheless, the 25-year-old officer, believing he had done nothing wrong, refused the offer and awaited trial.
Sutton had also been responsible for the prosecution of Border Patrol Agents Jose Alonso Compean and Ignacio Ramos, both sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for wounding an illegal immigrant as he ran from a truckload of marijuana after being stopped by the two agents.
Hernandez faced a federal jury in Del Rio, which convicted him of "violating the civil rights" of Rodriguez.
Sheriff Letsinger and other Edwards County citizens attended the trial to show their support for their deputy sheriff.
At sentencing, the federal judge deviated from guidelines and, although refusing to grant probation, delivered Hernandez a "one year plus one day" term in prison, the "one day" being a sentencing variant that would make the defendant eligible for early release.
He went directly to prison, leaving behind his wife and infant daughter.
Speaking to participants last Saturday in Rocksprings, Edwards County Chief Deputy Sheriff Jay Adams said, "You like to think the government's behind you, then something happens, and you find out you don't have any protection."
Two U.S. congressmen, Ciro D. Rodriguez of San Antonio and Ted Poe of Houston, were present. Both pledged to petition the White House for a complete pardon in order to vacate Hernandez's conviction.