Crime & Courts

Inmate was released from Mecklenburg jail despite ICE detainer. He ended up in standoff.

ICE spokesman explains why local jurisdictions should notify agency

ICE spokesman Bryan Cox makes a case as to why sheriffs should notify ICE when releasing inmates with immigration detainers. Luis Pineda-Ancheta was released from Mecklenburg County jail on May 17, 2019 and ended in a nine-hour standoff.
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ICE spokesman Bryan Cox makes a case as to why sheriffs should notify ICE when releasing inmates with immigration detainers. Luis Pineda-Ancheta was released from Mecklenburg County jail on May 17, 2019 and ended in a nine-hour standoff.

The man arrested following a nine-hour standoff in south Charlotte Thursday had been released from county jail last week — after federal immigration officials had placed a detainer on him, they say.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement says that Luis Pineda-Ancheta’s release is the result, in part, of local officials halting their cooperation on immigration enforcement.

Following his election in November, Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden initiated a policy of refusing to honor immigration detainers — requests by the agency to hold an individual in jail until ICE can pick them up.

But activists said that ICE is merely politicizing the incident to serve their own agenda: If he was here legally, they say, no detainer would have been issued, and he would have been released anyway.

Pineda-Ancheta, 37, barricaded himself inside the walls of an apartment off Sharon Road West, as police tried to serve him multiple warrants on domestic violence charges and a SWAT unit was called.

Barely a week earlier, he had been booked into jail on similar charges, allegedly against the same victim, and released on bond after the detainer was issued. A native of Honduras, he has been deported from the U.S. once before and is living in the U.S. illegally.

ICE has warned that the sheriff’s decision to stop working with them would create a “public safety risk,” by putting dangerous criminals back on the street. This incident, they say, confirms that warning.

The warrants for his arrest Thursday were on charges of assault by strangulation, kidnapping, assault on a female, communicating threats and violation of a domestic violence protective order, according to jail records.

“When law enforcement agencies fail to honor immigration detainers and release serious criminal offenders onto the streets, it undermines ICE’s ability to protect public safety and carry out its mission,” said Sean Gallagher, who oversees ICE’s operations in Georgia and the Carolinas.

Immigration advocates and the sheriff’s office, though, have pointed out that the criminal justice system can still keep any inmates who pose a public safety risk from making it out of jail. A magistrate or judge, not the sheriff or his deputies, is responsible for determining if — and how— someone is released.

“When ICE decides to request that a jail detain someone, they’re only looking at immigration status,” said Ann Webb, a policy analyst with the ACLU of North Carolina. “ICE detainers are not directly related to public safety, and suggesting that they are really feeds a harmful, biased narrative.”

A district court judge issued a protective order to keep Pineda-Ancheta away from a woman on May 7, according to arrest warrants.

He was then arrested on May 15, when he was charged with assault on a female, communicating threats, felony larceny, simple assault and injury to personal property, according to jail records. ICE placed a detainer on him the following day, and he was released from jail one day later, on May 17.

Police say he committed another domestic assault against the same woman on May 21.

Pineda-Ancheta’s release is consistent with McFadden’s policy of effectively refusing collaboration with ICE: Since his election, the sheriff’s office does not honor ICE detainers or notify ICE when it is releasing an inmate who has had a detainer placed on them.

The sheriff’s office refused to comment.

McFadden had campaigned on a policy of ending Mecklenburg’s participation in the controversial 287(g) program, which enables sheriff’s deputies to carry out immigration enforcement. Since 2006, that arrangement put over 15,000 immigrants living here illegally into deportation proceedings.

Immigration advocates have applauded his overall shift in policy, arguing that it increases trust of local law enforcement among immigrants, both with and without legal status. Webb, of the ACLU, said that cooperation with ICE can deter victims of domestic violence without legal status from coming forward for fear they could be arrested too — as was the case with one survivor last year.

But McFadden didn’t just eliminate 287(g), which acts as a “force expansion” by allowing sheriff’s deputies to check the legal status of inmates.

He also stopped honoring ICE detainers, which keep inmates living here illegally locked up in jail — and then, allow ICE officers to take custody of those inmates. And like other newly elected North Carolina sheriffs, McFadden also stopped notifying ICE when inmates with detainers were released from jail.

It’s those moves that immigration officials have jumped on, particularly in recent months.

Gallagher, of ICE, said in December that McFadden’s decision to cut ties with ICE serves as an “open invitation” and makes the county a “safe haven for persons seeking to evade federal authorities.”

The sheriff’s office has shot back, trying to separate immigration enforcement from matters relating to criminal re-offenders and accusing ICE of “cynical fear-mongering.”

And activists have pointed to challenges to the constitutionality of those detainers across the country, though the court of appeals with jurisdiction over North Carolina has made no rulings on the issue.

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