Republicans pounce on near-release of jail inmate in ‘sanctuary’ clash

The near-release of a man from the Travis County Jail who was charged with repeatedly sexually assaulting a 9-year-old girl intensified calls Tuesday for Sheriff Sally Hernandez to reverse a new policy that places strict limits on which inmates will be held for federal immigration checks.

The case of Hugo Gallardo-Gonzalez, 31, exposed how incomplete information in booking records nearly led to the release on bond of Gallardo-Gonzalez and led to a flurry of continued condemnation of the policy.

Sheriff’s officials told the American-Statesman and KVUE-TV that jail staff initially denied a request by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain Gallardo-Gonzalez under Hernandez’s new policy because the charge against him, continuous sexual assault, isn’t on the list of several crimes for which she has agreed to cooperate with ICE.

However, officers received additional information about the charge Gallardo-Gonzalez faced prior to freeing him that indicated he should be detained for ICE under the new policy. They then honored the ICE request to detain Gallardo-Gonzalez, who remains in jail.

Republicans who have sharply criticized Hernandez’s policy quickly pounced on the case. Gov. Greg Abbott posted a message on Twitter, declaring — incorrectly — that “Travis Co. Sanctuary Policy set free man charged with sexually assaulting young girl.” He added: “Texas will end this.”

The incident led to a promise by sheriff’s officials to take steps to stop such lapses from happening again.

“The Travis County Sheriff’s office intends to review this matter and consider possible policy modifications to account for similar future issues,” said Maj. Wes Priddy, who supervises jail operations.

Priddy said that, since Hernandez’s policy took effect Feb. 1, there have been no other instances in which jail staff denied an ICE hold they should have placed on an inmate.

Hernandez’s policy calls for the jail to only hold inmates on behalf of ICE if they are charged with murder, aggravated sexual assault and continuous human smuggling.

Priddy said that, although Gallardo-Gonzalez had posted $50,000 bail, authorities were waiting for a GPS monitor to be placed on him before releasing him.

The charge Gallardo-Gonzalez faces doesn’t exactly match any of those on the list, but jail staff reviewed a probable cause affidavit. There, they saw there are aggravating circumstances in his case, and therefore granted the ICE request for the hold, Priddy said.

He was never released from jail.

“We have him in custody, and he will remain in custody,” Priddy said. “It was not immediately apparent” that Gallardo-Gonzalez should be held on an ICE detention request.

Hernandez’s policy on how to handle requests to hold inmates for federal immigration checks has been under fire from Abbott and other GOP lawmakers since she took office in January. Most recently, Abbott followed through on a threat to withhold $1.5 million in state grant funds from Travis County.

Led by state Sen. Dawn Buckingham of Lakeway, Republicans repeated their position Tuesday that Hernandez’s policy threatens public safety. Like Abbott, Buckingham tweeted about the case, saying, “dangerous criminals being let out by (the Travis County sheriff) rather than turned over to ICE. Indefensible.”

“Hear me, Travis County residents,” she said at a brief news conference at the Capitol in which she declined to answer any questions. “Sheriff Sally Hernandez needs to hear your voice about how you disagree with her policies, how you think she’s making Travis County unsafe and how she’s jeopardizing the viability of your community.”

The state Senate has approved a bill by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, that aims to ban so-called “sanctuary cities” by making it a crime for sheriffs to adopt policies like Hernandez’s and by allowing victims of crimes committed by unauthorized immigrants in “sanctuary cities” or counties to sue the jurisdiction, among other provisions.

Every Senate Democrat opposed that measure, but two of them attended Buckingham’s news conference and said afterward that they believe Hernandez needs to make her policy tighter in light of the Gallardo-Gonzalez case.

“That detainer should have been, from my vantage point, honored. So I would ask that the sheriff rethink her policy as it relates to the type of offenses she’s going to recognize,” said state Sen. Royce West, D-Houston, who was joined by state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio.

Both said they still oppose Senate Bill 4 and think cases like Gallardo-Gonzalez’s distract from the more important issues at play, like the potential for racial discrimination in local policing.

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