Back in November of 2017, news broke that U.S. Border Patrol agent Rogelio Martinez died tragically on night duty, while his partner, Stephen Garland, suffered severe injuries. The men were found at the bottom of a deep culvert, and officials from the Border Patrol Union were quick to call the two men victims of a brutal assault, presumably by individuals trying to cross the border from Mexico.
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President Donald Trump seized on the news and the Union’s interpretation of the event, and took to Twitter to politicize the tragedy.
Border Patrol Officer killed at Southern Border, another badly hurt. We will seek out and bring to justice those responsible. We will, and must, build the Wall!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 20, 2017
After an exhaustive investigation, however, authorities now believe the two men died from injuries sustained after a tragic accidental fall, not at the hands of assailants coming into the country illegally.
According to Nick Miroff and Robert Moore of the Washington Post, “The top official of the U.S. Border Patrol has told his staff that the November death of an agent in West Texas was the result of an accidental fall, not an attack, according to a memo that refutes the version of the incident advanced by President Trump to renew his calls for a border wall.”
“More than two months into its investigation, the FBI said Wednesday that it found no signs the agents were assaulted. Kevin McAleenan, the acting commissioner of the Border Patrol, told his staff this week that the men fell into a nine-foot-deep culvert on a pitch-black night.”
“Garland survived the fall,” Miroff and Moore’s report continues, “but he’s told investigators he has no memory of what happened and has not spoken publicly about the incident. An autopsy released Tuesday listed the cause of Martinez’s death as ‘undetermined.’ ”
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas also promised Rogelio Martinez’s family that the attackers would be brought to justice, but he quickly acknowledged the new reality. “Maybe it’s a cautionary tale that all of us need to take a deep breath when things like this happen,” he told the Texas Tribune, “and realize that we don’t have all the information and wait until we get a little more information before reaching conclusions.”
The president has yet to echo anything like Sen. Cornyn’s dignified concession on the matter. If history is any indication, don’t expect one any time soon, either.
Donald Trump is a man of many talents. Perhaps not as many as exist in his mind, or in the minds of his shrinking band on minions, but even the harshest critics of the 45th president have to concede an elevated degree of aptitude in a few select areas of endeavor.
Real estate is one, perhaps, and certainly in the 1980s he turned a small inherited fortune into a much larger one through real estate development before declaring the first of many bankruptcies in 1991.
Reality television is another, definitely, as the ratings for the very successful “Apprentice” series show. And let’s not forget his talent for slapping his name on everything from vodka to steaks to fraudulent universities. Most of those enterprises ended in failure (and in the case of Trump University, in class action lawsuits that could end up costing him hundreds of millions of dollars), but Trump still got paid generous licensing fees, so all told, we have to give him the W on those.
Solving crimes based on what he learns from cable news, however, isn’t one his talents, nor is owning up to false statements when they’ve been proven to be so.
President Trump’s most famous fail on both accounts was his years-long attempt to prove the conspiracy theory that President Obama was born outside the United States, and no apology came when Obama’s long form birth certificate was finally produced, killing the “Birther” movement once and for all.
But his first swing and miss at cracking cases came back in the late 1980s, when he declared the Central Park Five – four Black males and one Hispanic male, all teenagers at the time – guilty of beating and raping a white female jogger less than two weeks after their arrest.
Trump took out full page ads in all of New York City’s major daily newspapers calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty in New York state specifically for the Central Park Five, who were still months away from standing trial.
After a sham investigation, problematic confessions, and other nasty bits of police and judicial malpractice, the men were tried and convicted, only to be exonerated and their convictions vacated years later when the real perpetrator – a completely unrelated serial rapist – confessed to the crime. His confession was confirmed by DNA analysis, but not before the five wrongly tried and convicted men served between 6-13 years.
President Trump has never apologized to the Central Park Five for his inflammatory role in the case, nor has he even acknowledged that he was wrong. In fact, during the 2016 campaign, he doubled down on his thoroughly debunked position when he told CNN just weeks before the election, “They admitted they were guilty. The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous.”
As irresponsible as Trump’s impetuous rush to judgement in the tragic death of Border Patrol agent Rogelio Martinez was, however, at least there’s no wrongly accused or convicted immigrant sitting in a jail cell as a consequence this time.