Ambushed: Contra Costa County Law Enforcement Sets Up Surprise Stings To Help Federal Immigration Agents Arrest and Deport Immigrants 

"Local law enforcement should not be involved in these kinds of activities."

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In another case, two probation officers contacted an ICE agent to check on the citizenship status of the father of a juvenile under the department's supervision. When the ICE agent identified the man as a non-citizen from Honduras who had previously been deported (but had no criminal convictions), one of the probation officers, Jose Castellanoz, interviewed the son to gain information about where his father was living.

Castellanoz and his colleague Andrea Sosa then shared the man's last known whereabouts to help ICE track him down, even though he wasn't under probation's supervision. The man wasn't even a priority under ICE's own Priority Enforcement Program.

On June 20, 2016, Gallagher again contacted ICE Deportation Officer Guan, because a man under his supervision told him in an interview that he was from Nicaragua. "Can you let me know his immigration status," Gallagher asked the agent. ICE informed Gallagher the individual wasn't deportable.

In some instances, probation staff tried to convince their colleagues they shouldn't actively help ICE arrest and deport people.

For example, on July 18, 2016, ICE Deportation Officer Nicholas Petrone asked Sosa if a specific person was under her supervision. Sosa replied affirmatively, telling the ICE agent the man was on active probation. The agent asked her for assistance in arresting the man.

"Can we help ICE to arrest his probationer?" Sosa asked his supervisor, Probation Director Michael Newton, in an email.

"I don't think we should participate in his arrest," Newton responded.

But then, according to the email records, probation set up a meeting with the individual so that ICE could arrest him anyway.

The extra degree of cooperation between ICE and the Contra Costa Probation Department, compared to other counties in California that have sanctuary policies, was underscored in an August 29 email from an ICE agent to a probation officer: "Would you be able to help me out with someone arrested in SF this summer on a DV charge?" the ICE agent wrote. "SF probation can be uncooperative at times."

In another email exchange initiated by the Contra Costa probation, Officer Tina Martinez wrote to ICE Deportation Officer Jeffery Castro seeking an "update" as to whether or not an individual had been deported.

"He was deported on 6/21/2016, please let me know if you hear of his return," the ICE agent replied.

Upon hearing of the man's deportation, Martinez replied, "Great, thanks!"

Below his email message, Castro included as part of his signature the following Ernest Hemingway quotation:

"There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and like it, never care for anything else thereafter."

Violating Trust?

Todd Billeci, Contra Costa County' chief probation officer, maintains that his department is acting in the best interest of public safety by cooperating with ICE. "Like any other law enforcement agency, we'll cooperate with ICE," he told the Express.

"If ICE contacts us, and they're doing some form of investigation, we'll evaluate the case and make a decision balancing the rehabilitation of the individual against public-safety needs," he said.

However, Billeci acknowledged that, over the past year, some probation officers took actions that were out-of-step with the department's current policy regarding contacts with ICE. He said that the department looked into some of the cases and realized it had two conflicting policies. One, drafted in 2013, stated that when any individual, adult, or juvenile "is suspected of being an alien and illegally in the country, the Deputy should contact the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency." This policy also states that the probation department should honor ICE holds, a practice that in some instances could be illegal under the TRUST Act.

According to probation records, however, this policy was suspended on June 26, 2016, and replaced with a new policy stating that the "immigration status of individuals alone is generally not a matter for [Probation] Department action," but that officers "may assist in the enforcement of federal immigration laws."

According Billeci, currently a person's immigration status cannot be the sole basis for a probation officer contacting, detaining, or arresting a person.

"We had a few hiccups," Billeci said about disseminating the new policy among the department's 125 probation officers.

Still, the chief said the new policy doesn't prohibit the kinds of surprise arrests detailed in this investigation. He added that he doesn't think these arrests, and other forms of close cooperation with ICE, will undermine public trust in the probation department, or interfere with its mission of supervising people.

But Contra Costa Public Defender Robin Lipetzky called the ongoing coordination of probation with ICE "disheartening" and said the practice undermines trust between the department and the people under its supervision.

"What is particularly troubling is the practice of a probation officer ordering a person on probation to come in for a meeting for the sole purpose of setting up an ICE arrest," she said. "This practice would seem to be an abuse of the role of probation."

Lipetzky and Billeci have met and discussed the policy with respect to ICE. She said she feels Billeci has taken her concerns seriously.

She hopes that Billeci "will put an end to this collusion with ICE, particularly in light of the current climate of fear experienced by the immigrant community."

Contra Costa County Sheriff David Livingston declined to be interviewed for this report, as did his employees, who were allegedly involved in setting up surprise arrests with ICE. Sheriff's Specialist Hooker declined to answer questions when reached by phone, saying only, "you're accusing me of things," before hanging up.

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