Local News

ICE blasts Wake sheriff over release of sex offender in US illegally

Posted September 27, 2019 1:30 p.m. EDT
Updated September 27, 2019 6:19 p.m. EDT

— Federal immigration authorities on Friday criticized the Wake County Sheriff's Office over the release from the county jail of a registered sex offender who is in the U.S. illegally.

Furmencio Miranda-Cortazar, 45, was convicted in June of two counts of sexual battery stemming from 2015 incidents involving a 13-year-old, according to court documents. He was sentenced to consecutive 150-day jail terms and was ordered to register as a sex offender and pay $3,000 to a a child advocacy group, records show.

Because he was given credit for the 11 months he had spent behind bars awaiting his day in court, Miranda-Cortazar was able to walk free the same day.

But U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents wanted him held, having identified the Mexican national as being in the U.S. illegally following his July 2018 arrest.

Three months after his release from jail in June, ICE agents arrested him at his home last weekend. He is now in ICE custody awaiting a deportation hearing.

"This is yet another example of a clear public safety threat being released into Wake County rather than into ICE custody due to the current sheriff’s policy on ICE non-cooperation," John Tsoukaris, interim director of ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations office in Atlanta, said in a statement.

Sheriff Gerald Baker is among several North Carolina sheriffs who have stopped cooperating with ICE, either by not honoring requests to detain county jail inmates whose immigration status was in question or by opting out of the federal 287(g) program, in which local authorities check the immigration status of everyone booked into the jail and pass that information along to ICE.

Both programs are voluntary and not federally mandated.

Baker declined to comment Friday on ICE's criticisms, but spokesman Eric Curry said federal authorities had ample time to secure a warrant for Miranda-Cortazar's arrest while he was in the Wake County jail. With a pending warrant, local authorities wouldn't have released him after the local criminal charges had been resolved.

ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said the agency cannot take any action while someone is in local custody.

Baker has said that working with ICE damages the relationship between his office and the Latinx community, discouraging people from calling law enforcement for help because they fear potential deportation.

"The Wake County sheriff’s continued decision to refuse cooperation with ICE serves as an open invitation to aliens who commit criminal offenses that Wake County is a safe haven for persons seeking to evade federal authorities, and residents of Wake County are less safe today than last year due these policies," Tsoukaris said.

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman, whose office agreed to a plea deal with Miranda-Cortazar in which charges of sex offense with a child and indecent liberties with a child, said there needs to be "some middle ground" in the dispute.

"We are interested in protecting the public, and those of us who have been elected and sworn to uphold the law and protect the public need to find some way to make sure people who are a threat to public safety, that we are using all the tools that are available," Freeman said.

State lawmakers passed legislation in August that would require sheriffs to honor ICE detainers or face possible removal from office. Gov. Roy Cooper quickly vetoed the bill, however, calling it "partisan political pandering" and noting that offenders can be arrested and prosecuted without forcing sheriffs to comply with federal immigration authorities.

Miranda-Cortazar was arrested as part of a "concentrated effort on declined detainers," Cox said.

Cox said that sheriffs across North Carolina have refused to honor 489 detainers issued between last October and mid-August. Those inmates were eventually convicted of 407 offenses, including murder, sex offenses, burglary and assaults.

"Not honoring a detainer is one things, but this is a complete lack of cooperation," Cox said of ICE's relationship with Baker and a few other sheriffs.

"Simply give us a call," he said, to allow ICE agents to pick up a wanted inmate before his or her release. "If you're a public safety officer, wouldn't you want to do everything you can to keep a violent predator off the streets?"

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WRAL anchor/reporters Mark Boyle and Julian Grace contributed to this story.

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