Sacramento sheriff violates TRUST Act, illegally detains and nearly deports Rosemont resident

Department vows to abide by new law but critics blast its ongoing relationship with ICE

Martin Del Agua and his wife, Julie, and their two children outside of the Sacramento County building last month. He spent a weekend in jail because the sheriff’s illegally detained him over his immigration status.

Martin Del Agua and his wife, Julie, and their two children outside of the Sacramento County building last month. He spent a weekend in jail because the sheriff’s illegally detained him over his immigration status.

It was a Friday night after a long work week, and like many Sacramento guys Martin Del Agua was hanging out in his garage: tooling on his car, sipping a beer, playing with his two children, listening to music. Suddenly, a bang on the garage door. And then yelling. He opened it, and as it slid up, two Sacramento County sheriff deputies appeared. The duo yelled at Del Agua, telling him to turn off his music. When he didn’t, the officers threw him against a trash can.

Del Agua lives in Rosemont, just southeast of downtown, where his neighbor called in a complaint about his loud music. What the deputies didn’t know that evening, February 7, was that, according to Del Agua’s lawyer Angela Chan, his family had a restraining order against the neighbor because of constant harassment. That’s why Del Agua didn’t turn off the music.

A police report says he tried to run from the law, which prompted the deputies to slam him against the garbage bin, then his truck. His children watched. “[The deputies] actually grabbed his cellphone and threw it,” Chan said.

Del Agua’s wife, Julie, emerged from the house and pleaded with the deputies to stop. That didn’t happen. In fact, according to Chan, they threatened to call Child Protective Services on the family. Finally, they arrested Del Agua, and without reading him his Miranda rights, according to an audio recording of the arrest.

All this was recording on video because, as it turns out, the Del Agua family installed security cameras in the garage because of their neighbor. But, again, deputies did not realize this, so that night, Del Agua was booked at the downtown jail for public intoxication (Chan says he had two beers “at most”). He was never given an exam,

and charges eventually were dropped. That’s the good news.

The bad news is much, much worse: The sheriff’s department held Del Agua in jail the entire weekend under the threat of deportation back to Mexico.

Law-enforcement agencies in California hold immigrants who lack proper documentation under what is called a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold, or ICE hold. Or at least they used to be able to do this. Sacramento County had been doing this for many years, but the issue at hand for Del Agua was that ICE holds, as of January 2014, are now more or less illegal.

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the TRUST Act. This law only permits sheriffs to detain suspected illegal immigrants in cases of felonies: violent crimes or high-level drug offenses. Playing music too loud doesn’t qualify.

But many counties, including Sacramento, have struggled to comply. That’s why Del Agua spent two nights in county jail, February 7-9.

Julie says that for nearly 72 hours, she and her 7- and 2-year-old kids agonized. Her children were confused—“Where’s Dad?”—and she was desperate for solutions.

She eventually got in touch with immigration attorney Raissa Morris, who emailed the sheriff to demand Del Agua’s release. After receiving no reply, she showed up at the jail on Sunday at around 9:30 p.m. with documents prepared by herself and Chan.

Morris says the deputy at the front desk alerted the sergeant on duty, who told her at that “ICE holds were mandatory.” She urged him to look into this, explaining that the TRUST Act was now law of the land, and that they were holding Del Agua without cause.

About 90 minutes later, the sergeant returned. “You’re right,” he told Morris. Del Agua was released by 11 p.m.

Everyone was relieved. And with good reason. “Immigration would have come the next morning and would have separated him from his family,” Morris explained.

Morris knows this because it happened recently to another Sacramento man, Angel Mendoza.

California Highway Patrol pulled Mendoza over on April 19 for littering. He was suspected of a DUI and was given a test, which he passed. But he was taken to county jail anyway.

No charges were brought against Mendoza, but in less than a few hours, he was detained under an ICE hold. When his family and kids finally figured out what had happened to him, they learned he’d been transferred to an ICE center in New Mexico.

Sacramento County claims that it had nothing to do with Mendoza’s deportation. Because he had been deported once before, the arresting CHP officers triggered ICE, the county claims. Critics, however, say that Mendoza should never have been held at county jail in the first place, since he was never charged with anything.

Mendoza and Del Agua’s cases were why activists gathered outside the Sacramento County sheriff department’s headquarters last month to protest its policies. The rally was also occasion for Chan to file formal tort complaints against the sheriff and the county.

“The sheriff’s department was wrong in violating the TRUST Act,” Chan told the crowd.

Del Agua, a landscaper who’s lived in Sacramento for more than 13 years, was at the rally in a buttoned-up shirt and jeans. His wife, a U.S. citizen and local schoolteacher, spoke at the rally, explaining how upset her kids were when their dad was arrested. Del Agua cried at her words.

The two complaints are precursors to a possible lawsuit, explained assistant Jon Rodney, a communications manager with the California Immigrant Policy Center. Sheriff’s department spokeswoman Lisa Bowman said the department would not comment on the Mendoza and Del Agua cases because of the possible litigation. Last month, on May 15, the sheriff did announce that it would no longer honor ICE holds and intended to abide TRUST.

But that doesn’t mean the department’s ceased cooperation with ICE.

Critics point out that even though the county has changed its tune, it’s still being reimbursed by Immigration for holds and transfers. Activists like Alma Lopez want Sheriff Scott Jones to forge a total break in collaboration with U.S. Immigration. “If he really wants to build that trust with the Latino community,” she said.