Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez vowed Wednesday that she will more tightly review cases to determine whether she will honor requests to hold inmates on behalf of federal immigration officials, likely resulting in her department granting more detention requests by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
She said jail staff will look beyond four offenses — capital murder, murder, aggravated sexual assault and continuous human smuggling — for which she has previously said such ICE requests, known as “detainers,” would be automatically granted. Now her staff will also review the cases of immigrants charged with other violent crimes, including kidnapping and child abuse, to determine whether they, too, should be held for federal agents.
The decision was propelled by the revelation of a case in which Hernandez’s staff didn’t initially grant a detainer sought by ICE against a man accused of sexually assaulting a 9-year-old girl. Hugo Gallardo-Gonzalez is charged with continuous sexual abuse of a child, not one of the charges on the original list. But after he posted bail and was being processed for release late Monday, staffers reviewed court records and honored the detainer request after all. The case fueled continued controversy about her policy.
The additional review also followed meetings Wednesday morning between District Attorney Margaret Moore and Hernandez in which they discussed how to handle inmates accused of serious crimes who haven’t yet gone to trial and for whom ICE detainer requests have been made.
Hernandez pointed out that the policy she enacted Feb. 1, which named the four charges, also said that “TCSO reserves the right to exercise discretion in any individual case to ensure justice is served.”
Hernandez told the American-Statesman and KVUE-TV, “We are going to be working with the DA’s office to make sure we are closing the gaps and collaborating well in the interest of justice. The policy is not changing. We are working better within it.”
DA wants time to prosecute
Hernandez’s policy has drawn a stream of criticism since she unveiled it in January, and her opponents, including Gov. Greg Abbott and state Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, this week cited the Gallardo-Gonzalez case as an example of its flaws.
Jail staffers didn’t initially honor immigration agents’ request to hold Gallardo-Gonzalez after he posted bail because they didn’t think his charge was one of those that necessitated cooperation with a request to hold him for federal immigration checks.
However, after employees received court documents in the case, they realized his charge constituted an aggravated sexual assault and placed an ICE detainer on him. He wasn’t released.
In a separate action Wednesday, Moore’s request to increase Gallardo-Gonzalez’s bail from $50,000 to $250,000 was granted by state District Judge Clifford Brown.
Moore said she was concerned that, because he had already posted bail and was eligible for release, Gallardo-Gonzalez could have been picked up from the jail by immigration officials and possibly deported before prosecutors had an opportunity to take his case to court.
Officials said that an inmate being held under a federal detainer generally is released to ICE once he or she posts bail.
“I believe that this community wants these offenders to face the consequences here in Travis County and be punished in our criminal justice system before they are deported,” Moore said.
Moore has also asked Hernandez to provide prosecutors with a daily list of newly booked inmates and the felony charges against them.
If an ICE detainer has been granted for those inmates, Moore said, prosecutors want the opportunity to review the bail amount of those defendants and possibly seek to have it increased to keep them in Travis County.
Statesman reviews releases
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.
The Texas Senate has approved a bill by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, that aims to ban “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.
A Statesman review of Travis County Jail inmates who were released after Hernandez enacted her new policy found that several immigrants who had been charged with violent felonies and sex crimes were set free despite requests they be held for federal authorities.
Gilmar Darosa was allowed to be released from the jail despite being charged with sexual assault. Darosa, 36, is accused of assaulting a woman in August at a Northwest Austin hotel by forcing himself on her as she tried to fight him off.
Ramiro Espinosa Marquez, 26, was also released without bail after Hernandez’s policy took effect. Marquez is accused of felony injury to a child. An arrest affidavit said Marquez struck a 14-year-old boy in the face, causing a cut that required stitches.
And Amadeo Navarette, 25, charged with indecency with a child, walked out of the jail without bail five days after he was booked. Police say he admitted touching the breasts and genitals of a 15-year-old co-worker in a September incident.
Of the 48 people who were released that federal agents wanted the sheriff to detain for them, 17 were charged with violent crimes. Twenty were charged with felonies. One man, Willison Peter Mogga, 26, had been arrested three times on felony charges in Travis County, including the latest charge of injury of an elderly individual.
But the Statesman also found several people who were released — and sought for immigration checks — were charged with nonviolent misdemeanors such as possession of marijuana or driving while intoxicated.
Before Hernandez’s policy began, those inmates could have ended up staying in the jail despite having the means to post relatively low bail amounts, but would opt to stay in the jail because of fear that they would be handed over to ICE, according to local attorney George Lobb, who has helped bail out several inmates who had ICE detainers filed on them.