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Deputies skirt state rules to help ICE deport suspects
The Multnomah County Sheriff Office will review new evidence of local deputies helping federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials deport undocumented immigrants.
The review was sparked by a Portland Tribune records request of emails that turned up several instances in which sheriff's deputies shared information with federal immigration officers.
Sheriff Mike Reese says he's bearing down to ensure deputies follow the law. In response to the emails, he's had a captain meet with the deputies in question to emphasize the ban on helping Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (known as ICE) deport people who have not been convicted of a crime, adding that the emails would be reviewed by internal affairs for potential investigation.
In one of the emails, Deputy Keith Fisher sent the address and conditions of release for defendant Ventura Machiccotoc to ICE. "He reports to us in person on Mondays. He said he would be here at 8 a.m.," Fisher wrote to Deportation Officer Michael Louie on July 29, 2016.
"Very cool. I'll give you a call on Monday when I get to your building," Louie responded.
Fisher added that if the defendant didn't show, he wore a sheriff's GPS tracking device, "so I can always look him up if need be."
Since Machiccotoc does not appear to have a prior conviction, the email appears to be "absolutely outside" what the law allows, contended John Schlosser, a defense lawyer who represented Machiccotoc on charges of burglary and assault.
According to court records, a Multnomah County judge on July 28 ordered the man released the next day pending trial. He may well have been picked up by the feds, as the court in September issued him a bench warrant for failing to appear.
Limits on state sanctuary policy
"We've spent a lot of time building trust with immigrant communities," Reese said when asked about the emails. "I just want to create a bright line for our employees so that when it comes to the civil detainer process we're not providing information to ICE on immigration status. I think that's complying with state law."
In late January, Reese put a stop to his office's longstanding practice of sending regular reports to ICE with information about undocumented immigrants in custody.
The new developments come at a time when Oregon's law barring state and local law enforcement from enforcing federal immigration law is increasingly at odds with the Trump administration's stepped-up effort to deport undocumented immigrants.
The recently released records also show the limitations of state law, explaining why despite Oregon's so-called "sanctuary" status, undocumented immigrants may have a hard time feeling safe.
Andrea Williams, executive director of the Oregon immigrant rights organization Causa, called the documents disappointing. "Multnomah County sheriffs are not supposed to be spending their staff time on enforcing federal immigration law," she said.
However, state law creates a "gray area" allowing significant cooperation between law enforcement and ICE, said Schlosser, who specializes in representing Spanish-speakers, including many immigrants, in his legal practice. He said the newly obtained records appear to show deputies helping deport someone who's never been convicted of a crime, contrary to the U.S. Constitution's presumption of innocence. The documents made him "amazed and angry," he said.
"Until they're convicted, if they don't have a prior conviction, then they're just accused," Schlosser said. "I feel like immigration should do their job and our law enforcement officials should be doing their job."
At the same time, Schlosser said he understands why some people won't feel the same way. That's because the instances in question involve an enhanced sheriff's pre-trial release program called Close Street Supervision, often utilized to oversee domestic violence defendants awaiting trial.
The sheriff's office is already investigating one Close Street deputy, Larry Wenzel, who apparently told ICE agents when an undocumented immigrant awaiting trial would come in for a meeting in December. The man was part of the Close Street Supervision program.
The new documents show two additional deputies, including Fisher, engaged in several other instances of cooperation with ICE.
It's unclear if any of the three deputies violated any law or policy. Their union did not respond to requests for comment.
Tracking and rekindling
In another case, on Aug. 3, 2016, ICE Deportation Officer Jeffrey Chan emailed Fisher, saying "we met a few days ago when your office assisted us with an arrest. We are currently looking for another individual who has deportation order ... Can you assist me to see if he is currently on Close Street Supervision?"
The person in question, 25-year-old Stepan Starodubtsev, had recently been arrested for theft and trespass, Chan noted.
Fisher emailed Chan the name and contact information of Starodubtsev's probation officer, but noted the man had not reported as required. Fisher also passed on the man's last known address. "Best of luck in finding him," Fisher wrote.
"Thank you for your help," Chan replied. "He likes to abscond and I'm trying to get him to rekindle his relationship with Putin of Russia."
"HAHAHAHAAH nice!" Fisher replied.
Reese takes over
Reese, a former Portland police chief, took over as Multnomah County sheriff when Dan Staton retired in August. The following month, Reese sent a letter to his deputies noting there are restrictions on his office's cooperation with ICE.
That was an allusion to the state law that says while law enforcement can share public information with federal immigration authorities, public resources can't be spent "for the purpose of detecting or apprehending persons whose only violation of law is that they are persons of foreign citizenship present in the United States in violation of federal immigration laws."
On Oct. 25, 2016, Fisher emailed deputies Louie and Chan asking for information about Jose Miscatzin, a 30-year-old man accused of five counts of sexually abusing a girl under 14.
"I found that he was detained by ICE sometime around the 23rd of August ... His attorney will most likely (ask) the courts for his release. I am wondering if the deportation process has started and if so what's his status."
Louie wrote back that Miscatzin had been convicted of coercion in May, so "since he has this conviction, we can arrest him and put him into immigration proceedings ... would we be able to arrest him at your office just like with the other guy?"
Since there had been a conviction, alerting ICE would not violate state law. But it's unclear if Fisher knew Miscatzin had been convicted.
On Dec. 1, 2016, Deputy Kari Kolberg emailed ICE that French defendant Laurent Batard, accused of multiple felony charges including assault, could soon be released.
"The victim in this case was at the release hearing and is terrified of the defendant. She tells me he is in the country illegally ... his visa is expired and that he's been using a fake Social Security card to gain employment," Kolberg wrote. "Is this someone ICE is able to put a hold on pending the outcome of his current charges?"
ICE officer Shawn Mohr replied: "I placed an immigration hold on him with the Multnomah County jail last week but they do not honor detainers. I gave them my cell # to call when he is released. Hopefully they will call ahead of time so we can be there when he is released."
Kolberg replied that she will "coordinate with our jail and release officer to make sure you are there to take him into custody at the time of his release."
Schlosser gasped upon hearing this exchange, saying, "Oh, you've got to be kidding me!"
Because Batard had not been convicted, Schlosser added that "I don't believe that (Kolberg) was complying with the law, which is sad, because I like Kari."
By Nick Budnick