Federal immigration officers are blaming officials at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail for ignoring an immigration detainer that they say allowed an undocumented immigrant to sexually assault a child.
Local law enforcement officials, however, dispute immigration officers’ claims that they ignored detainers, instead saying the federal agency twice chose not to pick up the inmate when they were released.
The spat between local and federal officials highlights an ongoing debate about notifying immigration officers about undocumented immigrants picked up by local jurisdictions.
“It is disingenuous at best for ICE to say that the detainers were ignored when by their own admission we complied with them to the best of our ability as per established policy and procedure,” Jail Superintendent Martin Kumer said Wednesday. “In both cases, ICE was notified as soon as possible and ICE declined to take custody of the individual.”
Marissa Martinez, 29, also known as Wilson Yovani Martinez and Maritza Martinez, is originally from Guatemala and was in the U.S. illegally, according to a Wednesday news release from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Enforcement Removal Operations.
The ICE release refers to Martinez as a female, as do charges in Albemarle County courts. However, the Charlottesville Police Department has referred to them as male. CPD uses the gender designations that are reflected on official documentation at the time of arrest, such as a driver’s license
According to ICE, Martinez was arrested on May 9, 2018, upon entering the U.S. in San Ysidro, California. Martinez was transferred to ICE custody and released on an ankle monitor on July 27, 2018.
Martinez complied with the monitoring terms and was removed from the program on March 3 pending immigration proceedings, the ICE release states.
Martinez was arrested by the Charlottesville Police Department on Nov. 30.
CPD spokesman Tyler Hawn said last month that Martinez was arrested on charges of simple assault and sexual assault of a child following a disorder in the 100 block of Longwood Drive. Hawn said an additional warrant was obtained in January for a charge of taking indecent liberties with a child.
ICE says that it lodged a detainer with ACRJ on the same day as the Nov. 30 arrest. However, according to ICE, Martinez was released on bond and the agency was only given one-hour notice before the release.
Jail Superintendent Martin Kumer contends that on Jan. 3, ICE was notified at 11:21 a.m. that Martinez would be released by about 1 p.m. At 11:34, Kumer said, an ICE agent responded that the agency would not pick up Martinez.
Later that same day, according to ICE, the Albemarle County Police Department arrested Martinez for felony indecent liberties with a child and ICE lodged a second detainer.
According to online court records, Martinez was found guilty on Jan. 10 of a lesser charge of disorderly conduct for the Nov. 30 arrest in the Charlottesville General District Court and received a 30-day suspended sentence.
On Jan. 21, Martinez was to be released on the Albemarle County charge and ICE says that ACRJ “again did not provide enough time for ICE officers to assume custody.”
Kumer, however, said that on Jan. 21, ICE again was notified of Martinez’s pending release and said they would not pick up the inmate because they were “busy in Culpeper with other business.”
Kumer said in an emailed statement that it’s “unfortunate” that ICE officials would “blame a fellow partner criminal justice agency for ICE’s inability to perform their duty.”
“It is even more disturbing that they would do so without even a courtesy call to discuss the concern,” he said. “This facility does not treat its criminal justice partners in this manner.”
ICE officers arrested Martinez in Charlottesville on Monday.
Martinez currently is being held at the Caroline Detention Facility pending immigration proceedings, according to the agency.
“When detainers are ignored, and criminal aliens are released back in the community, our greatest fear is that they will reoffend. That is precisely what is alleged to have happened here. The Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail chose to ignore a lawful detainer which would have kept this individual off the street and instead made a bad-faith attempt with one-hour notice, not just once, but twice.” Russell Hott, the ERO Washington, D.C. field office director, said in the press release. “When we’re talking about the safety of a child, there’s no room to play political games.”
Kumer said that ACRJ “followed to the letter” policy and procedure between the jail and ICE and the agency was notified “within minutes” of the jail receiving court documents authorizing Martinez’s release.
“It is unfortunate that Mr. Hott chose to ignore the facts in this situation and blame a partner agency for ICE’s lack of resources and inability to perform their duty,” Kumer said. “This facility will not compromise its integrity and professional standards in order to compensate for another agency’s deficiencies. Mr. Hott should be ashamed of himself for implying that a fellow criminal justice agency would do just that.”
Martinez ran into law enforcement a few times in 2019 outside of the charges in the ICE press release.
On Oct. 21, Martinez was found guilty of public swearing/intoxication in both Charlottesville and Albemarle County general district courts. Martinez was given a $25 fine in each case that hasn’t been paid.
On Nov. 5, Martinez was found guilty again of public swearing/intoxication in Charlottesville and given a $25 fine.
Whether or not to explicitly notify immigration officials of release dates for jailed undocumented immigrants has been a point of contention locally for several years.
The jail books about 3,000 to 4,000 people every year, out of which 50 might be picked up by ICE, Kumer has said at jail board meetings.
Twenty-five undocumented immigrants were picked up by ICE upon their release from the jail between July 1, 2017, and June 27, 2018, according to recent reporting. The jail released 19 undocumented immigrants with detainers who were not picked up by ICE during that time.
Most of the people in that year-long period were from Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador and had been charged with a variety of crimes, such as driving without a license, public intoxication, malicious wounding, carnal knowledge of a child and burglary.
In 2017, the jail ended its policy of holding people past their release date by 48 to 72 hours to give ICE time to pick someone up. However, if ICE has filed a detainer on that specific person, the jail provides the agency with notice that an inmate will be released.
The ACRJ board voted 7-3 in January 2018 and 7-4 in May 2019 to continue the notification policy.
Of the four votes in 2019 against the policy, only city representative Kristin Clarens remains on the board. The terms of former Councilor Wes Bellamy and city/county citizen representative W. Lawton Tufts have expired and former Interim City Manager Mike Murphy resigned in December.
Clarens didn’t return a request for comment.
There is no federal law requiring local and regional jails to notify immigration officials about undocumented people upon incarceration, nor is there a state law in Virginia.
Jail officials have said that basic information about inmates are uploaded to the National Crime Information Center and other databases when they are booked. ICE is notified about anyone who is undocumented by the system, not the jail itself, and then contacts local law enforcement about specific inmates.
ACRJ also only notifies ICE of an inmates release once the agency has filed proper paperwork with the jail. Social and immigration activists have implored officials to cease ICE notifications, citing national reports of abuse in ICE detention facilities and impacts on local families should one member be deported.
The commonwealth’s attorneys for Charlottesville and Albemarle County do not sit on the jail board and thus cannot influence the process.
Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Hingeley was against the practice during his campaign last year.
“ICE is saying, ‘We’re a federal agency, we want to make Albemarle County do our job,’” Hingeley told The Progress last year. “‘We want Albemarle County to give us notifications so we can come and not have to go through the whole process of going in front of a magistrate, just like all law enforcement does, and get a warrant.’”
Hingeley did not return a request for comment on Wednesday and Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania declined to comment on an ongoing criminal case.