Associated Press (California)
By Paul Elias
February 23, 2017
SAN FRANCISCO — A California police chief and mayor on Thursday accused federal agents of duping local officers assisting in the takedown of suspected members of the notorious El Salvadoran-based gang into helping make immigration arrests.
Santa Cruz is a so-called sanctuary city, which prohibits its police from cooperating with federal authorities investigating immigration violations.
Santa Cruz Police Chief Kevin Vogel and assistant chief Dan Flippo said Thursday that Department of Homeland Security officials lied when they assured them a Feb. 13 joint operation in the region would not include immigration-related arrests during the gang raids. Flippo said he learned a “number” of immigration arrests were made the next night when dozens of protesters disrupted a Santa Cruz City Council meeting to voice their displeasure.
DHS officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Santa Cruz police and DHS agents arrested 10 people allegedly associated with the MS-13 gang, also known as the Mara Salvatrucha gang. Seven were charged with extortion and three with drug dealing. Some of those arrested have been connected to four Santa Cruz homicides, the chief said. The chief said the department no longer trusts DHS and will no longer work with the agency.
“We can’t cooperate with a law enforcement agency we cannot trust,” Vogel said.
Flippo said the gang-related arrests were the culmination of a five-year investigation launched when a Santa Cruz resident called police to complain about gang members extorting local businesses. Flippo said his department enlisted the help of DHS because of the gang’s notoriety and global reach. He said the raids were made Feb. 13 because it appeared gang members were planning a murder.
Flippo said at press conference Thursday that it appears an additional 10 or more people agents encountered at the dozen residences raided Feb. 13 were arrested on immigration charges. Flippo says it appears most of them were later released after being ordered to wear GPS monitoring devices and given future court dates in immigration court.
Federal court records show one person arrested in Santa Cruz County on Feb. 13 on an immigration charge still in custody.
“I’m deeply disturbed and upset. I’m outraged,” Santa Cruz Mayor Cynthia Chase said. The police chief and mayor each apologized to city residents for unwittingly violating Santa Cruz’s sanctuary city policy.
President Donald Trump threatened in January to withhold federal funding from some 400 cities nationwide that have adopted similar policies.
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