Tulare County sheriff after rampage: Laws should be changed to better communicate with ICE

Laws need to be changed to allow local law enforcement to more easily communicate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in regards to criminals in jail who are deemed violent, Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said Wednesday.

Boudreaux was responding to a statement from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in which ICE said Monday’s “deadly rampage could have been prevented” if the agency had been notified of Junior “Gustavo” Garcia-Ruiz’s release from jail on Friday after he was arrested for a misdemeanor charge of being under the influence of a controlled substance.

Boudreaux said he is in agreement with ICE’s statement and that local law enforcement is “very frustrated” by how California’s sanctuary state law (SB54) has affected their ability to keep communities safe.

On Monday, law enforcement said Garcia-Ruiz carried out a string of random acts of violence in Tulare County, including killing a stranger and shooting at others, before he died following a police chase in Porterville. Boudreaux said Garcia-Ruiz committed at least 11 different crimes during that rampage, and that a Lindsay Police Department investigation is showing “strong evidence” that Garcia-Ruiz may also be responsible for a homicide Sunday in Lindsay.

ICE said its agency lodged an immigration detainer for Garcia-Ruiz on Friday after learning he was in jail.

“However, that detainer was not honored,” ICE wrote, “and he was released from custody later that day without any notification to ICE.”

ICE said this “is an unfortunate and extremely tragic example of how public safety is impacted with laws or policies limiting local law enforcement agencies’ ability to cooperate with ICE.”

Boudreaux said he would have liked to communicate with ICE in that instance, but the law prohibited him from doing so.

Mike Boudreaux
Mike Boudreaux Fresno Bee file

He said state law now requires ICE to have a “federally-signed arrest warrant,” and that his office only received their detainer approximately an hour before Garcia-Ruiz was released. Boudreaux said Garcia-Ruiz was in custody for approximately 10.5 hours and the law wouldn’t allow him to remain in custody longer because he was arrested on a misdemeanor charge.

If he had been arrested for a violent crime, however, such as an armed robbery, Boudreaux said Garcia-Ruiz would have remained in jail longer and the sheriff’s office would have been able to make ICE “fully aware” if he bailed out.

Before SB54, Boudreaux said his office would have been able to honor ICE’s detainer request, even for a misdemeanor charge, and “now that tool has been taken from us.”

Garcia-Ruiz has a known criminal past. The sheriff’s office said he received a one-year jail sentence and 36 months probation in 2003, after facing criminal charges in 2002, including armed robbery in Fresno, and assault with a deadly weapon in Reedley.

Boudreaux said Garcia-Ruiz’s past convictions couldn’t be used as a reason to honor ICE’s detainer request because the violent crimes happened more than 15 years ago. Boudreaux said state and federal law contradicts each other in regards to what crimes can be used against criminals after a certain period of time, “so which is correct?”

“Right now that law is dangerous for everyone,” he said.

ICE said Garcia-Ruiz first illegally entered the U.S. in 1992, when he was a minor, then adjusted his status to a lawful permanent resident in 2002, earning his eligibility through a family member.

ICE said they lodged a detainer on him after he was convicted for carrying a loaded firearm in a public place in 2003, and was sentenced to two years in prison. An immigration judge first ordered his removal in 2004, and again in 2014. Garcia-Ruiz served 27 months in federal prison for reentering the country before his second removal.

Boudreaux said his office is not interested in enforcing immigration law, and stressed that he supports “DACA and Dreamers and the undocumented community,” but that his office should be able to better communicate with ICE in regards to criminals deemed violent who are in jail. He said his office received more than 200 detainer requests from ICE and only recognized approximately 50 to 52 of them over the past year.

“I don’t want to be an enforcer of immigration,” Boudreaux said. “I only want to hold wanted criminals accountable. … Right now they are just releasing people back into the community, like Gustavo Garcia.”

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Carmen George is a features and news reporter for The Fresno Bee. Her stories have been recognized with Best of the West, George F. Gruner, and McClatchy President’s awards, and nine first or second place awards from the California News Publishers Association. She has a passion for sharing people’s stories to highlight issues and promote greater understanding.