Editor's note: Immigration and Customs Enforcement initially said the Colorado Springs Police Department released the suspect from jail. ICE issued an updated statement Saturday saying the El Paso County Jail, not Colorado Springs police, released the suspect.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the El Paso County Jail and the Teller County Sheriff’s Office ignored immigration detainer requests for an undocumented man with a list of numerous criminal arrests.
A statement from the ICE Denver Field Office said both law enforcement agencies didn’t detain 48-year-old Joel Ramirez-Mendez, who was arrested for DUI in Teller County on May 26, 2017 and in Colorado Springs for a hit-and-run crash on June 19, 2019. The statement said Teller County and El Paso County both released him on bond without notifying ICE first. ICE agents found and arrested Ramirez-Mendez Tuesday.
“Our professional ICE officers work tirelessly to find and arrest criminal aliens like Ramirez-Mendez in the interest of protecting the public,” said ICE Denver Field Officer John Fabbricatore. “Local law enforcement partners and local politicians should also consider public safety as a worthwhile and vital goal by honoring ICE detainers.”
ICE said Ramirez-Mendez has a criminal record in the U.S. dating back to 2000. They also said he has illegally re-entered the United States at least twice after being deported to Guatemala. He is currently being held on suspicion of illegally re-entering the U.S., which is a felony.
The statement was issued the same day that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against the Teller County Sheriff’s Office for misusing tax funds and violating Colorado law by honoring detainer requests from ICE.
The latest lawsuit specifically accuses Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell of violating Colorado law by entering into an agreement with ICE to train deputies this August. It’s not the first lawsuit from the ACLU that scrutinized policies in the Teller County Sheriff’s Office related to immigration detainers.
In February 2019, the ACLU’s lawsuit was dismissed after both parties came to an agreement to toss the case. That lawsuit accused the Teller County Sheriff Office of holding an inmate past his sentence at the request of ICE. That lawsuit had been filed in July of 2018.
The ACLU also sued El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder in February 2018 for refusing to release prisoners who had posted bond or completed their sentence to honor a detainer request. The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office runs the county jail, which is where suspects arrested by the Colorado Springs Police Department are housed while in custody. In that case, a judge ruled in favor of the ACLU and an appeal to that ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court was denied.
News5 left messages with the Colorado Springs Police Department and the Teller County Sheriff’s Office. Friday afternoon CSPD released a statement saying:
“The Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD) is dedicated to the safety of our citizens and committed to safeguarding our community. The suspect in question, was arrested and booked into jail by the CSPD.
On June 15, 2019, Joel Ramirez-Mendez was involved in a hit-and-run traffic crash involving seriously bodily injury to the other party in the city of Colorado Springs. CSPD officers investigated this felony incident and located the suspect who had fled from the scene. Joel Ramirez-Mendez was arrested on felony charges, as well as DUI, and booked into the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center.”
Additionally, Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill into law that would prohibit government employees from honoring detainer requests from federal agencies like ICE. That law is reportedly set to go into effect on Aug. 2.
It specifically says that a person eligible for release from custody must be released. It also bars local law enforcement in Colorado from making an arrest or detaining someone based on a federal immigration violation without a federal warrant or writ. It also bars law enforcement from passing on information about someone’s immigration status to federal authorities.
The law states, “Colorado law expressly limits the power of sheriffs to enforcing criminal law, making arrests for violations of criminal law, and housing prisoners for violations of criminal law.”
Maria De Cambra, Director of Communications and Community Engagement for Gov. Polis’ Office, reached out to News5 on Friday to say this law is reinforcing previous judicial precedent and existing law in the state.