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  1. #1
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    Gilmer Hernandez Released!

    Posted on 10/16/2007 5:42:01 AM PDT

    ROCKSPRINGS When he left home late last year for a jail cell, Gilmer Hernandez was a little known rural Texas deputy charged with shooting into a carload of undocumented immigrants during a late night stop.

    By the time he returned Monday, after 10 months behind bars for violating the civil rights of a woman injured in the shooting, Hernandez had become a national poster boy for conservatives in the bitter ongoing national debate over immigration.

    To many, it was proof that undocumented immigrants have more rights than U.S. lawmen.

    Columnists such as Ann Coulter and Phyllis Schlafly cited his case, as did primetime television pontificators like Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity.

    Focusing on the U.S. attorney who sent Hernandez to jail, protest groups vilified Johnny Sutton as "Johnny Satan" and "public enemy No. 1."

    But Monday afternoon, all such raucous partisan discourse was very distant when Hernandez walked into his living room, his wife, Ashley, on his arm, for the first time in almost a year.

    "I'm home," he said, giving his father-in-law, Jose Arredondo, a long, muscular hug. He then gingerly held his year-old daughter, Alektra, who predictably squawked in protest.

    "I'm still the same guy. I'm not going to let this bring me down," he said. "I'd like to thank everybody who wrote me letters and supported my family. It meant a lot to me. It meant I wasn't alone."

    A little bit later, downtown Rocksprings became a Gilmer Hernandez welcome home carnival as the entire student body at the school complex, plus dozens of local residents, turned out to greet him.

    More than 350 people crowded around the front of the school, blocking traffic, waiting to pay their respects to a local guy who had once taught as a substitute teacher there.

    "Like the signs say, Gilmer is free and a favorite son has come home," said Tooter Smith, a photographer for the local Mohair Weekly.

    One of the first to meet him outside the school was his old boss, Edwards County Sheriff Don Letsinger, who had suffered along with Hernandez during the federal investigation and trial.

    "I told him I loved him and I'm proud of him," the sheriff said. "He stood up for what he believed in."

    Hernandez, 26, who cannot serve in law enforcement again because of the conviction, said he had no second thoughts about how he reacted on April 14, 2005, in the incident that changed his life.

    "It happened in a split second. I was in fear of my life. I did what I was trained to do," he said.

    It all began with a late-night traffic stop after Hernandez spotted a dark Chevrolet Suburban running a downtown stop sign in his hometown. Unpretentious and peaceful by day, Rocksprings falls on a main smuggling route from the border, and after dark, unpredictable strangers often pass through town.

    The car Hernandez stopped was full of people, and when he attempted to speak to the driver, he said, the vehicle abruptly pulled away, trying to run him over.

    Hernandez shot between four and six times at the fleeing vehicle, blowing out a tire but hitting the back of the Suburban several times and slightly wounding a female passenger.

    When the vehicle stopped a short way up the road, all the occupants but the woman fled. Two of the immigrants would later sue the county over the shooting and be awarded $100,000 each.

    Hernandez, however, was charged with violating the wounded woman's civil rights. He was convicted, despite his claims of acting in self-defense.

    "I had been offered six months' probation but I wouldn't take the plea bargain. They wanted me to change my report about what happened," he said. "The conviction felt unreal. I couldn't believe the verdict."

    But, as Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Baumann said last year, "The law says you cannot use deadly force to stop a car unless it poses an imminent threat to the officer or another person. If the car is going away from you, it's not even a close call."

    At that point, Hernandez's case swiftly ascended to national prominence.

    Quickly, he, along with Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, both U.S. Border Patrol agents convicted of shooting an unarmed Mexican drug smuggler, became cause celebres in the national immigration debate.

    Hernandez, who could have been sentenced to nine years, instead got a year with time off for good behavior. He tracked the immigration debate as best he could from his cells in Texas, Oklahoma and West Virginia.

    "I felt like I was being used by all the politicians as an example. And they were right to use me," he said.

    And even though his future apparently lies with the phone company, which has offered him a job, Hernandez and his wife both say they will continue to speak out on the issue.

    "They might have taken his career away, his dream away, but we're still going forward," Ashley Hernandez said.

    "It was a terrible thing, but it was also a great thing for the community," the sheriff said as he stood outside the crowded school. "Everyone came together. Look at these kids. They know what is going on."

  2. #2
    Pudge's Avatar
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    Welcome home Gilmer.

    So sad to see you had to waste those ten months.
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