Sheriff Mike Boudreaux says last week’s crime spree could have been prevented if local law enforcement was not prohibited from sharing information with ICE under California’s “Sanctuary Law”
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
VISALIA – A Visalia man who went on a murderous rampage across Tulare County last week should have been out of the country, or at least in a local jail cell.
Gustavo “Junior” Garcia-Ruiz, 36, of Visalia killed at least one person and possibly another, shot three others, shot at several more, and sent four more to the hospital in a violent crime spree that spanned a dozen crime scenes from Sultana to Pixley in less than a day. While little is known about Garcia’s motivations for the crimes, Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux says the seemingly random acts of violence could have been prevented if not for certain provisions of California’s sanctuary law.
At a press conference on Dec. 19, Sheriff Boudreaux said Garcia was arrested just three days before his rampage began. On Dec. 13, the Sheriff’s department received a call of man acting strange in public. Garcia was found to be under the influence of a controlled substance. The Sheriff’s Department can only hold someone for less than 24 hours on a misdemeanor charge, so Garcia was released the following day. Even if he had been in custody for a felony charge, Garcia would still have been eligible for bail.
What the Sheriff’s Department didn’t know is that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had placed a detainer for Garcia an hour before his release. Sheriff Boudreaux said his agency had “no idea that Garcia was wanted for any federal immigration violations until hours into his booking, at which point we had to release him.”
Senate Bill 54, more commonly known as California’s sanctuary law, restricts what information about inmates local law enforcement agencies can provide to ICE, including information about inmates who have previously been deported for a violent felony, are serving time on a misdemeanor or felony and have a prior serious or violent felony conviction. Otherwise, agencies can only respond to requests from ICE for information already available to the public. The courts have also ruled that local law enforcement can no longer recognize immigration holds on detainees. Instead, ICE must now have an arrest warrant issued by a federal judge in order for California law enforcement officials to turn him over. Prior to SB 54, a person in-custody with an immigration detainer would have been turned over to ICE.
“Because of that, our county was shot up by a violent criminal, that could have easily been prevented had we had the opportunity to reach out to our federal counterparts,” Sheriff Boudreaux told reporters in his office.
Richard Rocha, spokesperson for ICE’s San Francisco and Northern California offices, said Garcia illegally entered the country as a minor in 1992. He adjusted his status to a “Lawful Permanent Resident” in 2002 after becoming eligible through a family member. ICE issued a detainer on him after he was convicted for carrying a loaded firearm in Reedley in 2002. He was sentenced to two years in prison for the crime in 2003. Garcia was deported in 2004 after serving most of his sentence. Garcia was arrested after illegally re-entering the country and served 27 months in federal prison before being deported again in 2014.
“This deadly rampage could have been prevented if ICE had been notified of his release,” Rocha said in a released statement. “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.”
SB 54 does allow local law enforcement to hold potentially deportable immigrants if they have been convicted of serious or violent crimes. Unfortunately, Sheriff Boudreaux said, that only applies to crimes committed in the last 15 years. Garcia’s only serious or violent crime was the weapons charge in 2002, two years beyond the limitation set by SB 54. Garcia was also arrested for vandalism and contributing to the delinquency of a minor in 2003, being under the influence of and in possession of methamphetamine as well as drug paraphernalia in 2012 and earlier this month for the drug charge and providing false information to an officer, none of which qualify under the sanctuary law.
SB 54 also prohibits local agencies from: Asking someone their immigration status or detain solely because of that status; Hold someone past their jail release date based on a civil immigration warrant; Assist in arrests based on civil immigration warrants; Provide a detainee’s information unless that information is already public; Provide office space for federal immigration agents, etc.; and Allow local agency officers to be supervised by federal agencies for immigration enforcement purposes.
“This is the second act of violence where an undocumented person has committed serious acts of violence,” Sheriff said. “What we need to remember is that we had another person that we could have prevented from committing acts of violence.”
The Sheriff was referring to Cecilia Bravo Cabrera, the 30-year-old Farmersville woman who has been missing since June 9, 2016. She is presumed dead although her body has not been found but later that year deputies arrested her husband, 37-year-old Yanes Valdivia, and the bigamist’s other wife, 39-year-old Rosalina Lopez, for Cabrera’s murder. Both Validivia and Lopez are undocumented.
“This is, once again, an example of State and Federal Law contradicting each other and another example of why ‘sanctuary cities’ don’t keep people safe,” Sheriff Boudreaux said. “The people in this Valley know, if we could legally hold someone based on a ‘criminal immigration detainer’, we would.”
Sheriff Boudreaux warned the public and the Tulare County Board of Supervisors in May that SB 54, while well intentioned, had hindered his department’s ability to bring some criminals to justice since it was signed into law last October. Sheriff Boudreaux told those in attendance: “Our focus is on the victims of Tulare County. We have farmers, ranchers, businessmen that employ even those that are undocumented. But I don’t want to pigeonhole the undocumented status of migrant workers because they’re entrepreneurs, they’re business people, they have successful businesses within our county. Having said that, if you were providing a risk to those who are living here, thriving here, living safely here, I need the tools to be able to remove you from that community.”
His comments were part of a presentation preceding a 3-1 vote by the Supervisors to pass a resolution opposing formally opposing SB 54.
“I want to be clear, the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t disagree with DACA, it doesn’t disagree with Dreamers,” said Sheriff Boudreaux, who noted that two of his deputies are Dreamers. “It disagrees with putting dangerous criminals back into our community. And that’s exactly what happened here.”
Sheriff Boudreaux agreed with those in favor of SB 54 that his office should not be enforcing federal immigration laws. He said his department is not tasked with or interested in detaining people for their immigration status. Using the Garcia case, the Sheriff pointed out that the first victim in the crime spree was a migrant farmworker who was shot while picking fruit just outside of Exeter.
“We didn’t investigate him,” Sheriff Boudreaux said. “We cared for him. We investigated the crime for him. We made sure he was medically taken care of, and worked with his family and held his family’s hand. We didn’t enforce immigration. We did go out and try to find this criminal.”
In October, the Supervisors held its first forum mandated by the Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds (TRUTH) Act signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in 2016. The law, which took effect on Jan. 1, 2018, requires California legislative bodies to hold at least one public community forum where it provides information about ICE’s access to individuals and receive and consider public comment. During the forum, the county reported that of the 19,335 bookings in 2017, the Sheriff’s Department received 244 requests from ICE to turn over inmates to immigration authorities. Less than half, 107 inmates, were transferred to ICE custody while 137 were not. Of the 137, 79 did not meet the statutory requirements for ICE transfers and 58 did meet the requirements but were denied access. Thirty-eight were denied access because no criminal charges were filed and 20 because they were pending trial for felonies. All 20 of those with pending trials were being charged with murder or sex offenses.
“Our hands are tied and I would hope that our state officials are paying very close attention,” Sheriff said. “Local law enforcement is very frustrated. We need some tweaking within that law.”
On Dec. 21, Assemblyman Devon Mathis (R-Visalia) issued the following statement condemning California’s sanctuary state law for allowing Garcia to be released from jail: “The blame for this tragedy lies squarely on the politicians who pushed for this radical sanctuary state law. Before SB 54, dangerous criminals would be turned over to federal authorities to be removed from the country. Now they’re turned loose into our community, and this is the sad but foreseeable result.”
Mathis, the new minority whip in the Assembly, said when the Legislature comes back into session in January, he will make amendments to the Sanctuary Law one of his top priorities.
“I support immigrants who come to America to follow the law and build a better life for them. That’s not what this is about,” said Mathis, who represents the 26th Assembly District, which includes the communities of Tulare, Inyo, and Kern Counties. Calls to California State Senators Melissa Hurtado and Shannon Grove, who both represent portions of Tulare County, were not returned as of press time.