On Friday morning, the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office decided not to press felony domestic battery charges against a 32-year-old undocumented immigrant with no prior arrests in the county.
Legal processors at the Sonoma County Jail informed Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents the inmate would be released at 2:45 p.m.
But if ICE came then to pick up the man, it was too late. He left the jail before 1 p.m.
Why was ICE notified of an undocumented immigrant against whom misdemeanor charges were dropped, if on May 1 Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas announced he was limiting his office’s cooperation with federal immigration authorities to individuals convicted of serious and violent felonies outlined in the Trust Act, plus 18 other offenses?
The answer is, new computer software that will automatically determine if an undocumented person in custody qualifies for Trust Act protection won’t come online until July 1. The Trust Act, passed in late 2013, prohibits California jails from detaining inmates for noncriminal holds requested by ICE, except in cases of serious and violent felonies.
Until then, the Sheriff’s Office will respond to every ICE request for notification on an inmate’s release, said Jerry Threet, director of the county’s first law enforcement accountability agency, the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach.
“If that process was in place already, ICE would not have been notified about that man,” said Kathleen Pozzi, the Sonoma County Public Defender. “He wasn’t convicted of an offense listed in the Trust Act.”
The Sheriff’s Office did not begin tracking ICE notifications until this year.
In the first four months of 2017, the Sheriff’s Office received 83 ICE requests for information about an inmate’s release from custody and responded 65 times. The difference between the number of notification requests and the responses is the undocumented immigrants still in custody, Threet said.
In April, ICE made 19 notification requests and had 18 responses from the Sheriff’s Office. Of the 18, four had been convicted with felony assault, three with felony possession of drugs, three misdemeanor DUI and one unlawful sex with a minor younger than 14. Five had their charges dropped or were convicted of offenses that would not qualify them for ICE notification. Two had clean records in Sonoma County before their misdemeanor offense.
Since the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t track the number of times ICE agents come to the jail to detain inmates being released, only one of April’s 18 responses — an inmate with an arrest warrant — is known to have been detained.
When a person is booked at the county jail and fingerprinted, a prebooking form must be filled out with a Social Security number and place of birth. That information is recorded in a detention file, or D-File, along with any previous criminal history, Pozzi said. Once the fingerprints are entered into the system, ICE will respond promptly if they match someone slated in their federal database for deportation.
The ICE notification request is then entered into the inmate’s D-File. When a date of release is determined — whether dismissal of a case, court sentence or inmate transfer — the legal processor at the jail enters the details into the D-File.
If there is a notification request from ICE in the file, the legal processor will notify ICE of the inmate’s pending release, Pozzi said.
“A person gets booked in the jail on Sunday, they’re arraigned on Tuesday and the DA says no charges filed,” she said. “That (report) goes to the jail within minutes. If people in the jail open up the D-File to enter release information and see an ICE request they immediately notify ICE. It happens quick.”
When ICE does come to the jail to take an undocumented immigrant into custody there’s a direct handoff between jail officials and federal immigration authorities.
If ICE had come to the county jail to detain the 32-year-old man released Tuesday, agents would have been waiting for him inside the jail. The man, whose criminal charge was just dismissed, would have been handcuffed, escorted to an ICE vehicle parked in a restricted area restricted and taken to an immigration detention facility.
Once the Sheriff’s Office changes its policy, the legal processor will enter the inmate’s name into the system and the software will either show a red or green light — red for detention and green for release.
“Our opinion is our responses won’t drop that much,” said Sgt. Spencer Crum, spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office. “ICE typically only sends notification requests for people who have committed serious and violent crimes.”
You can reach Staff Writer Nick Rahaim at 707-521-5203 or email@example.com. On Twitter @nrahaim.