New York Times
By Matt Stevens
May 30, 2017
A man who was arrested and charged with failing to pay his fare on a Minnesota light rail train is facing deportation after undergoing what the authorities described as inappropriate questioning about his immigration status by a transit police officer.
The encounter, which took place in Minneapolis on May 14, was captured on a video that was posted to Facebook on May 19. In it, an officer approaches the man, identified in a police report as Ariel Vences-Lopez, 23, and requests his name and state identification.
“Are you here illegally?” the officer asks.
A bystander who appears to be the person filming the interaction asks whether he or other transit police officers are authorized to act as immigration authorities.
The officer shrugs, and replies, “No, not necessarily.”
A 2003 ordinance adopted by Minneapolis prohibits police officers from asking about immigration status unless it is clearly relevant to a criminal investigation.
According to the Metro Transit Police Department’s incident report, an officer identified as Andy Lamers also used a Taser on Mr. Vences-Lopez, an action not captured in the 35-second video, after he refused orders to sit.
The report identified Mr. Lamers as the “primary” officer involved in the episode. In a telephone interview on Saturday, a department spokesman would not say whether Mr. Lamers was the officer who questioned Mr. Vences-Lopez on the video. A statement on Saturday from the transit police chief, John Harrington, also did not identify the officer.
The statement said the officer in the video was “no longer an employee of the Metro Transit Police Department.”
A department spokesman, Howie Padilla, said that the change in employment status was effective as of Friday but would not elaborate or say specifically whether the officer had been fired. Mr. Lamers could not be reached for comment on Monday or Tuesday.
An official from the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association was not immediately available to comment on Tuesday.
Mr. Vences-Lopez was booked on charges of suspicion of committing fare evasion, giving a false name and obstructing an officer, according to the incident report.
In a statement, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said its officers placed an immigration detainer on May 15 with the Hennepin County Jail on Mr. Vences-Lopez, who is from Mexico, and he was transferred to ICE custody the next day.
On May 23, a federal immigration judge issued a deportation order, and Mr. Vences-Lopez will remain in ICE custody pending his removal, the statement said.
ICE said it is routinely notified when a foreign national is booked into a county jail.
The chief pointed out in his statement that the shift in custody happened three days before the video of the passenger’s exchange with the officer was posted on Facebook.
“There was no reference to his immigration status in the police reports, nor did MTPD notify ICE or any other agency of any immigration-related concerns,” Chief Harrington said.
The chief said the department had hoped to explore other options for Mr. Vences-Lopez, such as a diversion program rather than a court appearance.
“Our policies and procedures reflect our commitment that our officers will not act as immigration officers,” he said, adding that departmental policies had been updated to “explicitly state that Metro Transit officers will ‘ensure equal enforcement of the law and equal service to all persons regardless of their immigration status.’”
“We also are working to re-establish the trust that was broken by this isolated incident,” he added.
In a statement on Saturday, Adam Duininck, chairman of the Metropolitan Council that oversees Metro Transit, said he was “shocked and dismayed” to learn that Mr. Vences-Lopez was in ICE custody and scheduled for deportation.
He said he had hoped that the rider would be placed in a diversion program or have the charges dropped.
“I believe we had an officer make a serious mistake,” he said. “Frankly, I — and all our council members — expect more from our training and our department. It is troubling that something that started as a routine fare check resulted in a pending deportation.”
Christopher Mele contributed reporting.
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