In the increasingly public debate over what role — if any — his office should play in federal immigration enforcement, Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden has shot back.
He charges that he has been unfairly targeted for the release of the man involved in a nine-hour SWAT standoff last month. He defended his decision to effectively cut ties with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, saying it improves, not hurts, public safety in Charlotte. And he said ICE shouldn’t be fighting him in full view of the public.
“The sheriff’s office (is) wrongfully being blamed for the huge burden that’s now being placed on ICE,” McFadden said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
His comments mark another episode in the tense, and growing, back-and-forth in recent weeks between various government agencies over how and why the standoff suspect was twice released from jail.
Luis Pineda-Ancheta, a 37-year-old native of Honduras, has been charged with a variety of offenses related to domestic violence, as well as with illegal re-entry to the U.S.
Following the standoff last month, ICE officials pointed out that they had issued a detainer for Pineda-Ancheta — a request by ICE to hold him in jail until the agency can pick him up.
Under a detainer, ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said, Pineda-Ancheta would have not been released from jail — or been involved in the standoff at all.
But McFadden said he has made it clear since his election in November that he would not honor those detainers, which are voluntary.
“It is unfair and inaccurate to suggest that my discretionary decisions,” he said in a nearly four-page-long statement, “are the sole reasons for Pineda-Ancheta’s releases.”
McFadden also said that the decisions of other players in the criminal justice system must “also be acknowledged.”
A magistrate or judge, not the sheriff or his deputies, is responsible for determining if — and how — someone is released from jail, including setting a bail amount. Pineda-Ancheta’s bail was set at $5,000 after his first arrest on May 15, and at $65,000 after he was arrested again a week later.
ICE and criminal warrants
Instead of issuing a detainer, McFadden hinted that ICE should have sought a criminal arrest warrant for Pineda Ancheta.
“I am not suggesting that ICE should have sought federal charges,” he said in the statement, “but ICE could have sought those charges.”
ICE officials did not request a federal warrant until after he was in the agency’s custody, the U.S. Attorney’s Office previously confirmed to the Observer.
Both ICE and U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray have protested that it would be logistically difficult to file federal charges related to immigration for every potential suspect in the Mecklenburg County Jail.
McFadden is one of several new African-American sheriffs in N.C’s largest counties who campaigned on a platform of cutting their collaboration with ICE.
In particular, he pulled Mecklenburg County out of 287(g), a controversial — and voluntary — partnership that enables sheriff’s deputies to act as immigration enforcement. At the press conference, he said ICE is using Pineda-Ancheta’s case to wage a campaign against him for ending the agreement.
“No one ever told me a voluntary agreement was mandatory,” he said.
Staff writer Jane Wester contributed.