Homeland Security (& other agencies) launch wave of pre-dawn raids across Santa Cruz, said to be targeting gang-affiliated homicide suspects pic.twitter.com/EDbfKHhDjj— Wilson Walker (@Wilson_Walker) February 13, 2017
An episode in Santa Cruz that might serve to illustrate the mounting tensions between federal and local law enforcement agencies has that city's police department, and even its mayor, expressing outrage at the Department of Homeland Security, publicly apologizing for its involvement, as a sanctuary city, in a series of detentions and arrests based seemingly on immigration status alone.
"In this operation, Homeland Security Investigation has violated and betrayed our community's trust," the department writes in a press release, and in a press conference, Santa Cruz Police Chief Kevin Vogel tore into the Department of Homeland Security.
That's a sharp turn from the Police Department's stance on the day of the law enforcement raid in question. "We’re trying to get people who have preyed on our community,” Deputy Chief Dan Flippo told the Chronicle on February 13. “We’re going after some very violent people," Flippo claimed. However, responding to community concerns voiced on social media about the presence of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement in Santa Cruz given the Trump Administration's recent and repeated threats against immigrants, "The timing is unfortunate,” Flippo added.
But Vogel, Flippo, and the department quickly changed their tune after learning more from community members. “Homeland Security officials were not forthcoming with information about those individuals they detained based solely upon their immigration status,” said Vogel. “The detentions of those suspected solely of being undocumented immigrants by Homeland Security occurred after my staff had left the scene of the locations where they were detained, which begs the question as to why these detentions did not occur while my staff was present and why Homeland Security officials have not been completely forthcoming to us with information about this. To me, this indicates that these detentions were made solely for immigration violations, which were not supposed to occur.”
The story starts in October 2011, according to Santa Cruz Police Officers. That's when they received a phone call from an El Salvadoran member of the Santa Cruz community regarding members of the MS-13 gang who had moved into Santa Cruz and its environs and were allegedly selling drugs and making threats. In spring 2012, department detectives had begun to work on the case, developing leads regarding extorted businesses on Ocean Street. The department says it was able to identify gang members in possession of firearms, and Homeland Security Investigations then became the lead investigating agency due to "international ties of the gang and the large scope of the investigation."
Fast forward to the first week of this month, when case investigators gained "credible information" that a homicide was being planned, at the gang's direction. At least one murder was due to occur within the next two weeks in Santa Cruz, according to the intel. The Assistant US Attorney petitioned for a Federal Grand Jury, and in the end, 10 Federal Detainers for 10 individuals were issued, all of them for gang members associated with Santa Cruz MS-13.
Local law enforcement was "repeatedly advised" that Homeland Security investigations was the lead agency in the matter," and Enforcement and Removal Operations were not to be involved, the Santa Cruz Police Department says. During the operation on February 13, 12 people were arrested, 9 for Federal Indictment, 1 for a warrant, 2 on probably cause. That's when Deputy Chief Flippo was touting the operation as a success.
But by then next day, February 14th, members of the public commented on the Homeland Security Investigators activities, claiming that children were left unattended and immigration detentions had occurred. According to a follow up by the Santa Cruz Police Department, 20 people were arrested or detained based on their immigration status, six of them taken to a federal facility and five released with GPS monitoring. One was released with a summons.
Advocates tell the Chronicle that the incident marks a sharp shift since the Obama administration, in which such "collateral arrests" were rare.
"I’m outraged,” KRON4 quotes Santa Cruz Mayor Cynthia Chase said about the immigration enforcement. “There’s no question that this action has torn families apart.”
James Schwab, a spokesperson for SU Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency of Homeland Security, claims that “The chief acknowledged this possibility and it was agreed that no foreign nationals would enter the Santa Cruz Police Department’s facility or their police vehicles.”
Per the Chronicle, Schwab says ICE agents "encountered 11 illegal aliens at the operational locations who were detained initially on administrative immigration violations due to their association with suspected members of a transnational street gang. Ultimately, 10 of those individuals were released."
Ryan Spradlin, the ICE's special agent-in-charge for the Bay Area, denounced Santa Cruz officials, telling the Chronicle that “When politics undermine law and order, the only winners are the criminals.... I told the deputy chief that rather than disparaging this operation, the community of Santa Cruz should understand that they are safer because of it.”
The Santa Cruz Police department sees it differently, observing the potential damage to its relationship with the community it serves. Department leadership is "reaching out to immigrant neighbors and associate groups to reassure the community that the police department will not intentionally participate in these types of raids," authorities say. Meanwhile, Deputy Police Chief Dan Flippo says that Senator Kamala Harris and Representative Jimmy Panetta are "looking into the incident," according to KRON4.