Crime & Courts

Honduras native arrested in Charlotte, charged with illegally reentering the US

Luis Pineda-Ancheta, who was involved in an hours-long SWAT standoff with Charlotte-Mecklenburg police last month, has been charged with illegally reentering the United States after deportation, according to a document filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina.

He was arrested by Immigration and Custom Enforcement in south Charlotte on Sunday, about 15 hours after he left the Mecklenburg County Jail, according to ICE officials and jail records. He and another man were sitting in a car with a loaded gun, but no one was hurt, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina.

Pineda-Ancheta, 37, was previously deported from the United States through Arizona in December 2006, according to the filing. He is currently in an ICE detention facility in Georgia, the U.S. Attorney’s Office confirmed.

His case has become a point of controversy for community activists, the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office and ICE over what involvement, if any, local officials should play in immigration enforcement. Twice in recent weeks, Pineda-Ancheta was released from jail after paying his bond. He has been charged with a variety of offenses related to domestic violence.

Since his election last fall, Sheriff Garry McFadden has effectively cut off all cooperation with ICE on immigration enforcement: He has refused to honor immigration detainers, or requests by ICE to hold someone in jail until they can be picked up. And he’s refused to notify ICE upon the release of inmates with detainers like Pineda-Ancheta.

ICE has blasted McFadden for the public safety risks they say stem from that policy, but immigration advocates have pointed out that if Pineda-Ancheta were here legally, he would have been released without a detainer and without any fanfare.

Advocates have also said that cooperation between local law enforcement and 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.

Released from jail

In a statement Monday, McFadden wrote that Pineda-Ancheta could have been charged with felony re-entry after deportation at any time, and the sheriff’s office would have honored that criminal arrest warrant.

The criminal complaint against Pineda-Ancheta was signed by a federal judge Tuesday. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office confirmed that ICE requested the document after officials arrested Pineda-Ancheta on Sunday.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray told the Observer it was a tough decision to intervene in a significant state case — Pineda-Ancheta is charged with felony kidnapping and other offenses locally — in order to charge him with a federal crime that might carry a sentence of just a few months. But the safety risk made it worthwhile, he said.

“I didn’t want a three-peat,” Murray said. “I did not want this individual to be out again and to be a threat to public safety.”

Murray said it was reasonable to expect that Pineda-Ancheta would not be released from jail after his May 23 arrest, given the serious nature of his charges and the difficulties involved in his second arrest.

He said it would be logistically difficult to file federal charges related to immigration for every potential suspect in the Mecklenburg County Jail. Investigators have to confirm deportation dates for every person and check whether they have any kind of special permission to re-enter the country before they can be charged, he said.

ICE spokesperson Bryan Cox said that only a small percentage — less than a fraction of one percent — of cases are criminally prosecuted. In those situations, he said, his agency typically does not request criminal arrest warrants until someone is in ICE custody.

Once ICE made the request, Murray told the Observer that his office helped ensure the case went before a judge quickly.

He’s calling for the sheriff’s office to change its policy and notify ICE before it releases inmates with detainers, so that ICE can arrest them safely as they leave the jail. It’s only a matter of time, Murray said, before someone is seriously hurt or killed by one of those individuals.

“If you look at the allegations in this case, this was pretty close,” he said.

But immigration advocates have said this case is being politicized in order to benefit ICE’s agenda. They have questioned the constitutionality of detainers, which has been challenged across the country — though the court of appeals with jurisdiction over North Carolina has made no rulings on the issue.

Stefania Arteaga, of the immigrant rights group Comunidad Colectiva, previously said the question on whether — and how — to release an inmate from jail is entirely separate from the question of honoring detainers.

“If it wasn’t a Latino man or an immigrant man, we wouldn’t be talking about detainers,” she said, noting that a magistrate or judge, not the sheriff or his deputies, set release conditions.

Domestic violence charges

Prior to his arrest by ICE, Pineda-Ancheta was charged with several offenses related to domestic violence.

According to police documents, the woman faced escalating violence from Pineda-Ancheta for at least two months. The woman did not respond to a request for comment, and The Observer is not naming her because of the nature of the case.

On April 2, she told police he had grabbed her neck and told her he’d kill her, according to arrest warrants and police reports.

On April 13, she reported that he had pulled her hair, stolen her phone, damaged the driver’s window of her car and thrown a 12-year-old boy to the ground twice, according to the records.

CMPD took out arrest warrants for Pineda-Ancheta after both April incidents, but he wasn’t arrested right away. Finally, on May 15, he was found and charged with communicating threats, assault on a female, simple assault, injury to personal property and felony larceny.

Pineda-Ancheta apparently had no criminal record in North Carolina, and aside from the theft of the woman’s smartphone, all the April offenses were misdemeanors, according to public records.

He was jailed for about 36 hours and released early on the morning of May 17 after paying a $5,000 bond, according to Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office records. A county spokeswoman confirmed that he was not under pretrial supervision at that point.

His court documents were stamped with “No contact with victim” and “Do not assault, threaten, harass and/or intimidate victim.”

A judge had also issued a domestic violence protective order in the case on May 7, according to court documents.

The kidnapping

On May 21, the woman contacted CMPD again. This time, the allegations were more serious.

She reported that Pineda-Ancheta forced her into his car, stuffed a cloth in her mouth, tied her up, threatened her and drove her several miles away, almost to the South Carolina state line, according to a police report and a search warrant.

There, he pulled a rope around her neck to get her out of the car and led her into the woods., police wrote in a search warrant. But he tripped, and she was able to run away, she told police, according to a search warrant.

Pineda-Ancheta told a coworker that he had planned to kill her, but she escaped, his boss later told police.

Police were ready to charge him with assault by strangulation — he’d strangled her with a nylon cable, one arrest warrant said. Moving her in the car led to an arrest warrant for first-degree kidnapping. Both offenses were felonies.

Three more arrest warrants were for misdemeanors: communicating threats, assault on a female, violation of a protective order. All five were issued on May 22.

The next day, a team of police officers attempted to arrest Pineda-Ancheta at his south Charlotte apartment. He did not cooperate, even climbing into the wall to hide, police said, and SWAT became involved.

Nine hours later, Pineda-Ancheta was arrested for the second time.

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