COLORADO SPRINGS — COLORADO SPRINGS - In an email to News5, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesperson said ICE made a mistake when it said the Colorado Springs Police Department ignored an immigration detainer request for an undocumented man with a list of numerous criminal arrests.
ICE released a statement last Friday that said CSPD released 48-year-old Joel Ramirez-Mendez following a hit and run crash on June 19, 2019. However, ICE Spokeswoman Alethea Smock sent an email to News5 saying "we mistakenly stated CSPD had released Ramirez to the street when it was the El Paso County Jail."
The jail is run by the El Paso County Sheriff's Office. ICE released a corrected statement in its email to News5, the full email is provided below:
Off the record: We've made a mistake. On occasion errors happen and in this case, we mistakenly stated CSPD had released Ramirez to the street when it was the El Paso County Jail. We apologize for the error and respectfully request you update your story with the corrected statement. We appreciate CSPD bringing this to our attention and look forward to serving the community alongside our law enforcement partners. Law enforcement agencies have one mission: public safety. Hopefully, highlighting cases like these brings attention to the unintended consequences of passing a law that restricts law enforcement agencies from working together and how it impacts the goal of keeping communities safe
On the record: Statement--
Joel Ramirez-Mendez, 48, is a twice-deported criminal alien from Guatemala who was first encountered by immigration officials in December 2006, in New York, following his criminal arrest for violent behavior and resisting arrest. In December 2006, a federal immigration judge issued him a final order of removal. He was removed to Guatemala in January 2007 and again in January 2011. Ramirez-Mendez continued to illegally re-enter the United States to commit a number of crimes. He has an extensive list of criminal arrests and convictions in the United States starting in May 2000.
On May 27, 2017, Teller County (Colorado) Sheriff's Office refused to honor the immigration detainer that ICE officers placed on Ramirez-Mendez following his May 26 arrest for driving under the influence (DUI); he was released on bond without notifying ICE. On June 15, 2019, Ramirez-Mendez was arrested yet again on charges of vehicular assault, DUI, leaving the scene, and causing serious bodily injury. ICE officers encountered Ramirez-Mendez on June 16, 2019 while held at the El Paso County Jail in Colorado Springs, Colorado and lodged an immigration detainer with the jail. On June 17, 2019, Ramirez-Mendez posted bond, and the El Paso County Jail released him without first notifying ICE officers. To protect the public from this recidivist dangerous criminal, and without any assistance from local police officers or sheriff's deputies, ICE officers located and arrested Ramirez-Mendez June 25. He remains in ICE custody pending federal prosecution for illegally re-entering the United States after having been previously deported, which is a felony.
Public Affairs Officer
News5 chose to include the full email, including the portion that read "off the record," because both parties must agree that a conversation is off the record. In sending the written statement via email without having a conversation with a News5 employee first, there was no way for us to consent to that conversation. Therefore, this statement is on the record.
CSPD Lt. Jim Sokolik provided a statement of his own on Friday after we brought the statement from ICE to his attention.
“The Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD) is dedicated to the safety of our citizens and committed to safeguarding our community. The suspect in question, was arrested and booked into jail by the CSPD.
On June 15, 2019, Joel Ramirez-Mendez was involved in a hit-and-run traffic crash involving seriously bodily injury to the other party in the city of Colorado Springs. CSPD officers investigated this felony incident and located the suspect who had fled from the scene. Joel Ramirez-Mendez was arrested on felony charges, as well as DUI, and booked into the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center.”
Smock's email also provides a reason why ICE released statements critical of actions by local law enforcement in Colorado. She specifically calls out a the "unintended consequences of passing a law that restricts law enforcement agencies from working together."
Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill into law in May that would prohibit government employees from honoring detainer requests from federal agencies like ICE. That law is reportedly set to go into effect on Aug. 2.
It specifically says that a person eligible for release from custody must be released. It also bars local law enforcement in Colorado from making an arrest or detaining someone based on a federal immigration violation without a federal warrant or writ. It also bars law enforcement from passing on information about someone's immigration status to federal authorities.
The law states, "Colorado law expressly limits the power of sheriffs to enforcing criminal law, making arrests for violations of criminal law, and housing prisoners for violations of criminal law."
Maria De Cambra, Director of Communications and Community Engagement for Gov. Polis' Office, reached out to News5 on Friday to say this law reinforces previous judicial precedent and existing law in the state.
This issue has prompted American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuits involving the El Paso County Sheriff's Office and the Teller County Sheriff's Office, including a new lawsuit involving Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell. That lawsuit was filed the same day ICE released its first statement.
The latest lawsuit specifically accuses Mikesell of violating Colorado law by entering into an agreement with ICE to train deputies this August. It called the agreement a misuse of taxpayer money.
In February 2019, a different ACLU's lawsuit was dismissed after both parties came to an agreement to toss the case. That lawsuit accused the Teller County Sheriff Office of holding an inmate past his sentence at the request of ICE. That lawsuit had been filed in July of 2018.
The ACLU also sued El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder in February 2018 for refusing to release prisoners who had posted bond or completed their sentence to honor a detainer request. The El Paso County Sheriff's Office runs the county jail, which is where suspects arrested by the Colorado Springs Police Department are housed while in custody. In that case, a judge ruled in favor of the ACLU and an appeal to that ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court was denied.