The official White House account tweeted a pretty good summary of this story Tuesday:
BREAKING: 2 unlawfully present El Salvadoran teens have been arrested and charged with first-degree murder of a Maryland girl.
Both had previously been arrested for attempted murder. In spite of detainers placed on them, both were released without notification to @ICEgov.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) May 21, 2019
In fact, that was based partly on a statement released the same day by ICE:
Josue Rafael Fuentes-Ponce and Joel Ernesto Escobar, both Salvadoran nationals, were previously arrested on May 11, 2018 when they were arrested by Prince George’s County Police Department (PGCPD) for attempted first-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder, participation in gang activity, conspiracy to commit murder, attempted robbery, and other related charges. ICE officers lodged a detainer with PGCDC, however both were released on an unknown date and time without notification to ICE.
On May 16, 2019, PGCPD arrested the same individuals and charged them with first-degree murder.
“As law enforcement officers, we must continue to serve and protect the American public and act in the interest of public safety first,” said Baltimore Field Office Director Diane Witte. “These individuals had demonstrated violent criminal behavior before, and because they were released in spite of the lawful detainer, they were afforded an opportunity to take a life.”
If you’re sensing some heat over this, here’s why: Fuentes-Ponce and Escobar (allegedly) murdered a teenage girl with a baseball bat and a machete after she was lured into a wooded area. From the Washington Post:
[Ariana] Funes-Diaz was killed by MS-13 members and associates who were worried she would go to authorities about a kidnapping and robbery the group committed earlier in the District, Prince George’s County police and prosecutors said.
In the April 18 attack, which was recorded on a cellphone camera, Fuentes-Ponce struck Funes-Diaz with a machete and was seen washing the weapon in a creek after she was killed, according to police charging documents. The machete was later found abandoned in a park in the District, police said.
That brutal murder shouldn’t have happened because Fuentes-Ponce and Escobar should have been turned over to ICE rather than being released earlier this year. In fact, Fuentes had been ordered removed from the country in 2017 when he apparently didn’t show up for his immigration case:
Fuentes initially arrived in the U.S. on Dec. 23, 2015, as part of a family unit in Texas. They were ultimately paroled into the U.S. pending the outcome of the immigration case, according to ICE.
On March 16, 2017, an immigration judge ordered Fuentes removed in absentia, yet he remained.
The Prince George’s County Department of Corrections is arguing it’s not their fault because they are following the legal guidance the state’s attorney general which says they don’t honor ICE detainers unless a warrant is included:
On May 11, 2018, the Prince George’s County Department of Corrections took custody of Joel Ernesto Escobar and Josue Fuentes-Ponce on attempted murder and attempted robbery charges. Four days later on May 15, 2018, a court order resulted in both juveniles being transferred to the Cheltenham Youth Detention Center, which is a state facility. Fuentes-Ponce was released from the Cheltenham Youth Detention Center, following the disposition of his case.
Escobar pled guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery and received a time-served sentence on March 15, 2019, at which time he was transported back to the Department of Corrections and released to a family member. The Department of Corrections follows the Guidance Memorandum of the Maryland Attorney General to not inform the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency of individuals being released with a detainer, which is a civil matter.
Here’s the jail director making the same point:
#New Prince George's county jail director firing back at @ICEgov saying the prior release of two teens now charged with murder despite an immigration detainer is legal and proper based on guidance from the Maryland Attorney General. I'll have the full story on @ABC7News pic.twitter.com/h7hHGGSYLg
— Brad Bell (@ABC7Brad) May 22, 2019
This wasn’t always the way PG County did things but was a change made in 2014 in response to a push by the ACLU:
“We have changed our policy to reflect the recent advice by the Maryland Attorney General that individuals should not be deprived of their liberty based on an administrative detainer,” said Mary Lou McDonough, Director of the Prince George’s County Department of Corrections. “We will only hold individuals who have a warrant which is issued after probable cause is shown.”
Recent federal court decisions have found that detention on the sole basis of an immigration detainer request violates the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. Three federal courts have found that such detention raises constitutional concerns and that counties are liable in damages to the individuals they detain on that basis.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the girl who was murdered was apparently part of the gang. She had participated in a crime with the people who eventually murdered her. That’s what they were afraid she would share with police. But that obviously doesn’t make what happened to her any more acceptable. She was a kid who should have lived long enough to regret her behavior. Indeed the fact that they were worried she might go to police suggests she had some kind of conscience the others did not. In light of what happened here, Maryland should reconsider the guidance on honoring ICE detainers.
This is not the first time something like this has happened. I wrote about a similar case in March. And Jazz wrote about another case back in November. Here’s a local news report on the Maryland case: