He acted at all times in compliance with the dictates of military protocol. Health Lieutenant Nestor Ramirez tried to control insubordination and, believing his life was in danger, killed a subordinate. But he didn't know that, apparently, he was surrounded by soldiers working for drug traffickers, who, in addition, injured him so severely that he lost his legs...today he is mutilated, in jail and accused of homicide.
Mexico, D.F. When Health Lt. Nestor Ramirez Bautista saw that two trailer trucks were hitching and unhitching boxes in the yards of the International Bridge No. 2, in Piedras Negras, he knew something was wrong. Even though he was on break, he decided to order his subordinates to inspect the loads.
Flanked by a private and a corporal, he summoned the drivers of the tractor trailers, which he thought were acting nervously. The drivers admitted they were transporting an illegal substance. To corroborate this, Ramirez approached the first vehicle, but, before he got there, the private took off running.
The corporal was the only one who agreed to climb onto the truck, but once on top of the tractor trailer, instead of obeying the order, he called the military base on his cell phone. He told them that Lt. Ramirez had gone crazy and wanted to inspect a clean trailer.
Nestor Ramirez is a health lieutenant, that is, a military nurse. His superiors decided to place him in charge of an armed unit. Complaining was useless. "These are operational needs," he was told when they made him commander and put him in charge of a handful of soldiers that were guarding the border crossing between Piedras Negras, Coahuila, and Eagle Pass, Texas.
He was used to certain rudeness from those who had trained for combat roles. But never insubordination like this. He became suspicious.
When he heard what the corporal was saying on his cell phone, he pointed his weapon at him and ordered him to get off the vehicle. He disarmed him while other soldiers approached to try to calm him down. Suspicious of all of them, he ordered them to lower their weapons and brought them under control, shooting twice at the ground. But the corporal's call had summoned four reinforcements who got there aboard a Suburban. With two more shots to the ground he placed three more soldiers under submission. Bullet fragments from the shots fired into the concrete struck Private Juan Cortes Hernandez.
Yelling and making threats, one of the newly arrived soldiers refused to lower his weapon.
"Don't make a big deal, it's fixed, you're going to get screwed!", warned Zapper Corporal Onesimo Diaz Robles.
Military personnel hold weapons in three positions; they're called "low guard" (pointing the weapon at the ground), "middle guard" (pointing it to the front) and "high guard" (pointing it upwards). From a low guard, Lt. Ramirez fired two more times but this didn't have any effect. Two more shots. Nothing. Corporal Diaz raised his guard, but before he fired, the lieutenant fired.
The bullet entered the thorax and exited through his neck. Onesimo was choking on his own blood and couldn't talk. Ramirez insisted:
--What's in the trailer? Who does the load belong to? -- he yelled at him.
The wounded corporal could only manage to wave his hands with his palms open, simulating wings. In the Army, that's a sign used for referring to Generals.
Ramirez believed that reinforcements would arrive at any moment. The shots echoed on the meadows around the customs office on Bridge No. 2, and they were heard on the Texas side the morning of April 24. He thought that help would come soon...and it did come.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw several military vehicles approaching fast. Trustingly, he remained with his back to them. He didn't want to lose sight of his subordinates. He heard doors open and close, the sound of boots on the ground...and a burst of bullets struck him on the legs.
At the discretion of the judge
The narrative of these events is contained in File No. 378/2012, and includes a video in DVD format, identified as "Videos Record 29 C.P. 300/2012" which makes the statement of Ramirez Bautista more coherent.
However, military justice Colonel Jose Antonio Romero Zamora, second judge of the First Military Region, refused to accept the disc as evidence and ordered that Ramirez Bautista, who lost his legs from the bullet wounds and from the way he was transported, be imprisoned.
Romero Zamora chose to accept the version given by the the insubordinate soldiers, and they ratified the version that was leaked to the media moments after the incident.
On that same day, April 24, several news services, among them El Universal, reported that an active duty Army soldier had wounded two of his fellow soldiers, one of whom died two hours later in a local hospital. In quotes, the note cited an anonymous military source:
"It was after 9:00 this Tuesday morning when all of a sudden, for no reason at all, the soldier took out his weapon and began firing like crazy. First he shot into the air and then at his fellow soldiers, who were trying to calm him down."
That is how Lt. Ramirez was described, firing like a crazy person. But the statements from the other persons involved are contradictory.
For example, the wounded soldier, Juan Cortes Hernandez, asserted that while he was alongside Lt. Ramirez he noticed he was carrying a 9mm MP-5 submachine pistol, when in fact he used a 7.62 cal.
G-3 automatic rifle. At the hearing, the lieutenant's lawyers pointed out that the confusion is not believable, especially for a soldier with several years of service, since the MP-5 is a long weapon while the G-3 is short; the first is semi-automatic while the second is fully automatic. [Note; the Proceso writer is confused. The G-3 is a long weapon, and the MP-5 a shorter one. Both are selective fire.] This was also rejected by the judge.
The DVD that was rejected as evidence by Judge Romero contains seven videos taken by the security cameras at the customs checkpoint, and, apparently, was provided by the defense for Lt. Ramirez. This reporter could not locate his lawyers.
The first video shows almost completely the scene described by the accused and mutilated lieutenant. In addition, it also showed the way the soldiers who shot him picked up the fired cases and the weapons, altering the (crime) scene. In general, forensic material is scarce in the investigation case number GN/CDACUNA/02/2012, with which the military trial started.
The forensic evidence in the file is so weak that it does not even include the [sodium] rhodizonate test applied to Lt. Ramirez to determine whether he fired or not. Nor [does it include] the test for the others involved. It also does not contain the medical evaluation performed on Ramirez Bautista in Clinic 11 of the Piedras Negras IMSS (social security hospital), but it does contain the one performed when he left the General Military Hospital in Mexico City, two and a half months later, when Surgeon Major Juan Carlos Leon Cruz wrote that he did not show any signs of torture.
The military judge also did not want to accept testimony that contradicted the soldiers' version, on the basis that they were too far away. For example, the testimony of Military Public Ministry Major German Rodriguez Morales, the one who ordered cavalry sergeant Juan Carlos Ramos Roman to fire at the lieutenant's legs.
In the video, after the shot Lt. Ramirez fired at Corporal Diaz Robles, he Diaz can be seen squatting, watching the arrival of the reinforcements, then being carefully led to a military vehicle, the same with Private Juan Cortes.
It gets worse. In the video one can see that Lt. Ramirez only fired once, although the death certificate for Corporal Diaz establishes that there were two, not one, bullet wounds. The second shot is unexplained and neither the prosecutor that led the investigation nor the military judge wanted to broaden the inquiry with respect to this matter.
As for Lt. Ramirez, his fellow soldiers grabbed him by his wounded legs, carried him about 15 yards until they got to a pickup truck, where they threw him carelessly.
High impact nurseHe had arrived to the north of Mexico a few days before, coming from Tonala, Chiapas. The Defense Department decided that the 61st Infantry Battalion of the Mexican Army, deployed there, would travel to Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon, although its scope of operations was broadened to include Ciudad Juarez and several cities in Coahuila.
Lt. Ramirez had taken leave of his family on February 20, 24 hours after the Day of the Soldier, when according to newspaper reports, General Oswaldo Angel Sanchez Velasco, battalion commander, read the same speech that Defense Secretary Guillermo Galvan Galvan had read before Felipe Calderon in Mexico City.
"A united Mexico is stronger than the criminal factions, no matter how violent they may be. Reason and law are on our side."
In Tonala, the battalion had already faced members of the Mara Salvatrucha and the Zetas that smuggled drugs and migrants through that zone. The arrival of the 21st Battalion to the north of the country was celebrated in the media, which published images in which could be seen the arrival of the huge military convoy.
But as the members of the battalion were distributed to Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Coahuila and Chihuahua, the units were disintegrated. Lt. Ramirez was placed among strangers.
Today he is in prison, accused of abuse of authority, homicide and injuries. He doesn't have legs any more and before his rehabilitation was complete he was interned in Military Camp Number 1.
Last (July) 6, the judge on the case asked for a medical evaluation to reactivate the proceedings for the murder charges. The (hospital) discharge order notes that Lt. Ramirez's vital signs are stable. It states also that he is post-operative after amputation of his lower extremities, in "physical therapy phase" that could be done at home, which is why "it was decided to release him."
Interned in the military prison, where there are no wheelchair ramps, toilets or showers for disabled persons, nor facilities where he can develop and carry out the rehabilitation he still needs, Lt. Ramirez was confined in the prison's sick bay, although, according to regulations, no intern may stay there permanently.
He has also lost all his benefits and half of his salary, although there's been no firm sentence issued in his case.
In his testimony, Ramirez declares that his actions were intended to prevent passage of two vehicles that were trying to take drugs into the United States, an activity related to the orders he had been given, because he was assigned to a "high impact operation."
In accordance with Article 6 of the Disciplinary Law for the Army and the Air Force, the insubordination justified the use of force --in this case, the weapon-- to impose discipline. That is to say, Lt. Ramirez asserts that he acted in accordance with Army directives. He also argues that the judge did not take into consideration that Article 119 of the Code of Military Justice provides that self defense exempts a defendant from criminal responsibility.
Despite this, the lieutenant is charged with abuse of authority resulting in homicide and injuries.
With respect to the two tractor trailers mentioned in the file, and visible in the videos from the customs station, that disc the judge did not want to admit [into evidence] and about which he made no findings at all, there is no report or investigation because the other soldiers let them go.