In response to a Breitbart article and a subsequent press release from the federal agency that enforces the country's immigration laws both of which suggested that an undocumented man who was arrested on suspicion of setting a small bonfire Sunday might be connected to the wildfires across Northern California Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano issued a response Thursday blasting the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency for using a major disaster to try to mislead and divide the public for political ends.
The Breitbart piece, published Tuesday, drew from a report in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat about the October 15 arrest of 29-year-old Fabian Gonzalez, falsely stating that he was a suspect in the investigation into the cause of the wildfires. Gonzalez was arrested in Maxwell Regional Park, near where he's been living under a bridge, after he was observed carrying a lighter and fire extinguisher and walking away from a bonfire he had allegedly lit to keep himself warm and which ultimately burned about a quarter of an acre of brush.
Not long after Breitbart's misleading story, ICE issued a public statement to Giordano saying that the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office was a "non-cooperative jurisdiction," referring to its sanctuary county status, and claiming that they "left their community vulnerable to dangerous individuals," referring to Gonzalez, who had been arrested and released before for other minor incidents.
As Giordano says in his statement, which you can read in full here, "We don’t know if these [wildlands] fires were arson or caused by another source. [But] There is no indication that Gonzalez had anything to do with these fires and it appears highly unlikely." He further says that ICE's acting director Thomas D. Homan issued a statement that "was inaccurate, inflammatory, and damages the relationship we have with our community."
Giordano reiterates that to the Press Democrat saying, "This isn’t the guy who lit the fires, and to equate that is misleading and inflammatory and distracts from the mission we have helping our community recover from these fires."
Further, Giordano said that Homan's claim that the Sheriff's Office had failed to inform them of Gonzalez's earlier releases was untrue. "Gonzalez has been in our jail approximately 8 times for minor misdemeanor offenses," Giordano wrote in his statement. "We have notified ICE about his release in several of those arrests as they took place before our recent [sanctuary-related] policy change. We will continue to notify ICE if it complies with law and our policy. But as I stated earlier, they can seek a warrant and we will hold him."
ICE issued a detainer request for Gonzalez, and Sonoma County typically addresses these requests by informing ICE when undocumented suspects are released from their jail. Regardless of this policy, Giordano says, Gonzalez is currently being held in lieu of $200,000 bail, and is awaiting his next court date.
"ICE attacked the Sheriff's Office in the midst of the largest natural disaster this county has ever experienced," Giordano says. "Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated, many people have lost their homes and 23 people have died from this firestorm. ICE’s misleading statement stirs fear in some of our community members who are already exhausted and scared."
In addition to Breitbart trying to connect one undocumented man to the fires which sprang up nearly simultaneously in eight separate counties the night of October 8 during intense wind conditions another spurious news source suggested this week that Mexican drug cartels were responsible, in an effort to impede the growing legal marijuana growing industry in Sonoma and Mendocino counties. That report, like the Breitbart piece, had no evidence to cite for this.