Sergio Martinez returned to Portland after nearly a decade’s absence. But he’d been busy in the meantime: Deported 12 times. Convicted three times for illegal re-entry. A rap sheet of crimes from burglary to theft in three states.
Immigration agents noticed his name on a Multnomah County list of jail inmates last December. They asked the Sheriff’s Office to alert them before releasing Martinez so they could send him back to Mexico one more time.
But they never heard a word. Martinez spent a night in the downtown jail, then was out.
Police in Portland arrested Martinez five more times over the next six months. Each time, he was booked into jail. Each time, immigration agents had no idea that he’d been arrested, booked and released.
On July 24, seven days after his last release, Martinez, 31, crawled through a window in a 65-year-old woman’s Northeast Portland apartment, tied her up with scarves and socks and sexually assaulted her, police said.
That night, he grabbed a 37-year-old woman at knifepoint as she walked to her car. He forced her into her car, but she escaped and he followed, tackled her and repeatedly bashed her head into the concrete until others arrived and he ran off, police said.
Martinez’s record has become Exhibit A in a polarized political landscape that pits the Trump administration’s vigorous push to curtail illegal immigration against states like Oregon with powerful sanctuary movements.
Martinez’s latest arrest inflamed a national debate that shows no signs of waning. Top federal law-and-order leaders from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to Oregon U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams decried the local jail’s silence on a criminal who had earned the label of “serial immigration violator.” Multnomah County itself had labeled Martinez’s chances of committing another crime and failing to appear in court as “100 percent.”
“The fact that these things happened to these two women is inexcusable,” Williams said.
Williams and immigration officials say the sheriff has misconstrued state and federal law, arguing that nothing prevents local police and jails from sharing information with federal agents about people in the country illegally who face criminal charges. Other Oregon counties and the state Department of Corrections routinely provide that information.
“We can’t do our job and enforce federal immigration law without that shared information,” Williams said. “This is information going from one law enforcement agency to another and it’s about public safety. It’s that simple.”
Related Story: List of Sergio Martinez’s deportations, federal prosecutions
Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese defended the jail’s actions, saying it was following state law and federal case law. He turned the tables, asking why federal officials allowed Martinez to enter the country illegally more than a dozen times.
Reese said he felt “distressed and heartbroken” that Martinez is accused of preying on women after his release from jail.
But he said sheriff’s deputies will notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement about an inmate or hold that person longer only when they get a federal criminal arrest warrant signed by a judge. The ICE “detainer” for Martinez was an administrative request and doesn’t meet the jail standard, he said.
“While I certainly respect U.S. Attorney Billy Williams and his thoughts on this, he represents ICE so his policy is specific” to the immigration agency’s interests, Reese said.
“We’re trying to build relationships of trust with immigrant communities. Having our police officers involved in immigration enforcement would damage our ability to keep our community safe,” the sheriff said.
Michael Kagan, a legal expert on immigration issues, said the law allows the jail to make a simple notification to ICE about an inmate’s release.
“If a locality is choosing not to share that information, that’s their policy choice,” said the law professor from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “The Constitution is not a shield on that.”
But Kagan added that there’s nothing to stop immigration officials from seeking an arrest warrant to detain someone. He noted that ICE isn’t set up to do that and hasn’t devoted the resources to change.
ACLU of Oregon attorney Mat dos Santos said he believes immigration agents have the wherewithal to check jail rosters and pick up people they want. They don’t need to enlist local help.
“The problem with information sharing,” he said, “is it sweeps up many, many people who have low-level offenses into this increased enforcement regime.”
COMMUNICATION WITH ICE EVAPORATED OVER TIME
Multnomah County, with by far Oregon’s busiest jail system, now follows the strictest interpretation of the state’s sanctuary law, essentially cutting off direct communication with immigration agents on inmate arrests and releases.
From 35,000 to 38,000 people get booked into the system here each year, including an estimated 4 percent who report being born in other countries.
The Martinez case highlights how the county’s relationship with ICE has evaporated over time, but especially after President Donald Trump’s election. It also has exposed a gap in sharing jail fingerprint records that immigration agents can use as a back-up way to find people.
Reese changed the rules shortly after Trump took office.
Oregon’s statute on “Enforcement of federal immigration laws” was designed to prohibit the use of public resources to arrest people “whose only apparent violation of law” is their illegal immigration status — a civil offense, not a crime. The 1987 law was intended to prevent police from using immigration regulations to profile or harass people based on their race, testimony on the bill showed.
Before its adoption, legislators added an amendment at the request of Oregon State Police to make sure local authorities could exchange information with ICE for people arrested on a non-immigration criminal offense.
For years, immigration agents had regular shifts at Multnomah County’s downtown jail, allowed to review booking registers to look for people who faced deportation.
But that stopped after a federal magistrate judge in 2014 ruled Clackamas County was liable for damages after it held an inmate beyond her release date at the request of immigration agents who were still investigating her immigration status.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Janice M. Stewart decided that Clackamas County violated Maria Mirandas-Oliveras’ Fourth Amendment right by keeping her in jail 19 hours after settling her state case for violating a domestic violence restraining order.
The judge ruled that ICE hadn’t provided sufficient probable cause to hold her and the jail shouldn’t have honored the request. The ruling started a ripple effect in the state, causing jails and police to no longer agree to such civil detainers.
Instead, Multnomah County and other jails started providing weekly reports to immigration officers on all people born outside the country booked into their jails, their names, ages and charges.
But on Jan. 27, Multnomah County stopped sharing those reports. That change came two days after the sheriff stood at a news conference with county Chairwoman Deborah Kafoury, the ACLU’s dos Santos and others, pledging to defy President Trump’s call to hold undocumented immigrants for deportation amid threats to withhold federal funding to sanctuary cities.
Reese said the weekly reports are gleaned from inmates who self-report their home countries and are shared with foreign consulates to provide legal representation for their citizens, but no requirement exists to send the reports to ICE.
He said he changed the jail’s immigration policy after “robust conversations with county counsel and stakeholders.” He was advised that providing reports specifically to ICE may violate the 1987 sanctuary law, he said.
Instead, he said, immigration agents can access the sheriff’s public website on inmates in custody or contact the corrections records unit for public information if they want to track arrests.
“Our public website is our source of sharing information with everyone, including ICE,” the sheriff said.
Elizabeth Godfrey, a regional supervisor for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations based in Portland, said county officials have “grossly mischaracterized and misinterpreted” the state law.
“Concluding that the law somehow prohibits information sharing is frankly inaccurate and is unsupported by its legislative history and relevant case law,” she said.
Local jails clearly could follow the sanctuary law’s provision for exchanging information in cases like Martinez’s — when accused offenders face criminal charges, she said.
The county sheriff also has misapplied the federal judge’s ruling, Godfrey said.
ICE, though, no longer requests that Oregon sheriffs hold someone on a civil detainer beyond their typical release date, she said, recognizing that the 2014 court case “aroused concern among local law enforcement.”
But the sheriff’s stance of requiring a criminal arrest warrant is unrealistic because it can take days or weeks and ICE isn’t set up to do that, she said. Very few illegal immigrants that the agency encounters are subject to federal criminal prosecution, she said, and in those cases, agents must first know they’ve been arrested, which requires an exchange of information.
“We weren’t given that opportunity” in the Martinez case, Godfrey said.
FINGERPRINT SNAFU FURTHER HAMPERS ICE
Martinez’s mother brought him to the United States when he was not yet 1. His father died when he was a few months old and his stepfather died when he was about 10.
He attended elementary school in the Los Angeles area but started displaying mental health problems and was considered “emotionally disturbed” by the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, court records say.
He was sent to several residential mental health treatment centers. His mother couldn’t care for him and sent him back to Mexico at various times, court records indicate.
He often walked across the Mexican-U.S. border, sometimes with fake IDs. Asked in 2013 why he kept returning to the United States, Martinez said, “To come to live with my family,” noting he had three sisters born here, court records show.
His record in California includes convictions for burglary in 2008 and battery, theft and obstructing an officer in 2015. California authorities typically alerted ICE when Martinez was released from prison there, as state corrections officials do in Oregon. Federal authorities said he also was charged in Texas in 2012 with misdemeanor criminal mischief under a false name.
Last year alone, Martinez was deported to Mexico from California three times before he was arrested by Beaverton police in December on a 2008 Multnomah County arrest warrant, charged with unauthorized use of a vehicle, possession of a stolen vehicle and nine other charges.
He was taken to Portland and booked into the Multnomah County Detention Center at 9:40 a.m. on Dec. 7.
Immigration agents learned of Martinez’s arrest through the sheriff’s weekly report to the federal agency on foreign-born detainees before Reese halted the practice. They then faxed a detainer form to the jail, asking for notification before Martinez’s release.
Martinez was released from jail the next day at 1:35 p.m. A Multnomah County prosecutor dropped the 2008 charges because eight years had gone by — long past the three-year mark for a speedy trial.
Martinez was booked into the jail five more times from February to June:
— Feb. 13: On a failure to appear warrant on a January allegation of criminal trespass from a disturbance at Pioneer Place mall. He was released on his own recognizance the same day.
— March 3: On warrants alleging possession of methamphetamine and failure to appear for the trespass charge. By then, court officers highlighted that he had five earlier felony deportation violations, three failures to appear in Multnomah County court and a history of mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse. He was released the same day and ordered to report to a pretrial supervision officer.
— March 21: On another failure-to-appear warrant for the trespass allegation. He was released on his own recognizance the same day.
— April 6: On an accusation of interfering with public transportation and theft of services in an alleged TriMet fare jumping case. He was released the same night on his own recognizance.
— June 16: On an escape warrant from a Feb. 17 encounter with police when he ran as officers tried to serve him with a warrant in the trespass case. This time, he was held for 31 days. A court officer called Martinez an unsuitable candidate for release, citing his lack of stability, history of drug and alcohol use, criminal record, history of missing court dates, mental health problems, earlier deportations and a score of 8 on a risk assessment tool that correlated to a “100 percent failure rate.”
On July 17, Martinez pleaded guilty to interfering with an officer. His other charges were dismissed. He was sentenced to time served and released from custody that day.
Even without the notification from the jail of the releases, immigration agents thought they had a stopgap way to track Martinez, but that failed, too.
The jail is expected to take fingerprints of everyone booked into jail and is supposed to send them electronically to Oregon State Police, which then shares them through the National Fingerprint File with the FBI and U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Typically, immigration officers would have received alerts when Martinez’s fingerprints appeared in their system each time he was booked into the downtown jail. But they got none after his five arrests this year.
The county jail contracts with the Portland Police Bureau’s Forensic Evidence Division to take the fingerprints. Portland police send the fingerprints of people arrested for the first time to state police, but “many repeat misdemeanor arrests do not get sent to OSP each and every time due to lack of resources,” police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson said. Police don’t have the time or staff to handle the load, he said.
Maj. Tom Worthy, a supervisor with the state police Public Safety Services Bureau, said police can scan and immediately send biometric prints, so there’s no reason why the prints shouldn’t go to state police every time someone gets booked.
“We want to have a definitive record of people committing crime in Oregon,” he said.
On July 24, Martinez entered a woman’s apartment in the 1700 block of Northeast Irving Street through an open first-floor window and sexually assaulted her, threatening her with a metal rod in his hand, police said. Martinez then left with her keys and phone and drove away in her Prius.
The woman ran to a neighbor’s unit for help.
“I searched for this apartment for a long time, and for the past 7 years was confident I had found the perfect home,” she wrote later on the social media site Next Door. “That has been ruined for me. I cannot return.”
About 6 p.m. that same day, Martinez is accused of pulling a knife on a woman as she was walking to her car in a parking garage in the 2100 block of Northeast Halsey Street.
She offered him money, her phone, her purse, her computer, but he insisted he just wanted to talk, though he added, “If you say another word I will kill you,” according to police. He ordered her into her car and locked the doors. She unlocked them and ran out. He tackled her and she screamed, “Help, he has a knife. He’s trying to kill me!” He ran back into her car and tried to drive off but couldn’t, then fled on foot as police chased after him.
Police followed him as he ran into an apartment on Clackamas Street. An officer, with his Taser drawn, ordered Martinez to the ground.
Martinez is now being held on $3.6 million bail. He’s pleaded not guilty to a 27-count indictment, charging him in the two assaults on the women, including multiple charges of sodomy, sexual abuse, kidnapping and robbery.
FEDS WANT ‘SHARED RESPONSIBILITY’
Oregon’s U.S. attorney and immigration officials said they hope Martinez’s case will spur change.
They no longer hold out hope that sheriffs in Oregon will keep someone in their county jail on an immigration hold.
But they’re asking sheriffs in Oregon to give ICE agents as much advance notice as possible before releasing inmates sought by immigration officers.
They also want to allow immigration agents to pick up the inmates within a jail entry or other controlled space to safeguard officers and avoid a potential escape.
“Tell me we don’t have a shared responsibility not to release people like this individual back into our community to commit more crimes,” Williams said.
Godfrey, the deputy ICE field office director, said she would sit down with sheriffs to address their concerns.
“It’s my interest to keep that line of communication open and honest,” she said. “Some level of cooperation is critical in support of our collective interests in promoting public safety.”
But sheriffs and immigration rights advocates argue against altering long-held policy based on a worst-case scenario.
They point out that many of Martinez’s arrests in the past year were for nonviolent crimes and that it’s difficult to predict when someone’s behavior will escalate to violence.
They also don’t want to make undocumented immigrants afraid to call police if they become crime victims for fear of drawing attention to their immigration status.
“Of course we want people who are committing really dangerous and violent crimes to be held accountable, but it seems to me they’re using this example to try to get Portland to walk back on what it stands for — protecting documented and undocumented members of our community,” said dos Santos of the ACLU.
Kagan, the Nevada law professor, suggests a middle ground: Have the jail alert immigration agents about the release of people considered dangerous and streamline a system to notify the immigration agency about people it wants to pick up for deportation proceedings.
So far, Multnomah County isn’t budging.
If ICE wants to pursue an inmate for illegal entry into the United States, Reese said, “We suggest they seek a criminal arrest warrant.”
— Maxine Bernstein
(c)2017 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)
Visit The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.) at www.oregonian.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
This content is published through a licensing agreement with Acquire Media using its NewsEdge technology.