Advocate criticizes law enforcement after arrests
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – A local immigrant-rights activist acknowledged that his organization played a little loose with the facts in criticizing what local law enforcement agencies have termed a “gang enforcement operation,” which resulted in arrests on immigration violations and other charges at the Strawberry Days carnival last weekend.
But that’s beside the point, said Brendan Greene, Rocky Mountain Region coordinator for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC).
“Whether this happened on Saturday or Sunday doesn’t really matter,” said Greene, who made comments in a press release CIRC issued earlier this week that it was inappropriate for immigration and law enforcement agencies to target the suspects at a family festival in front of their children, “on Father’s Day.”
Sunday was Father’s Day. According to Garfield County Sheriff’s Office reports, the arrests actually took place on Saturday at the Brown’s Amusements carnival, which was set up at the Glenwood Springs Mall as part of the Strawberry Days festivities.
“The point is that this was a clear violation of ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) directives to not conduct operations in sensitive locations,” Greene said. “This is no way to do a raid, at a fair when their own kids are present.”
The sheriff’s office, which worked with local ICE officials on the operation, issued a statement late Thursday clarifying that no arrests were made on Father’s Day, and that safeguards were in place to ensure public safety.
The statement came after the story was picked up by statewide media, including Latino newspapers and radio stations, when CIRC issued its press release. The incident has also become a hot topic on Internet blogs and talk radio programs.
Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario accused CIRC and Greene of spreading “lies and false propaganda.”
ICE and the sheriff’s office, through its Threat Assessment Group (TAG) program, a multijurisdictional effort to shut down gang activity in Garfield County, carried out the weekend operation.
“We will utilize the necessary tools that are available to us, including federal law enforcement, to eradicate these criminals,” Vallario said in the prepared statement. “It was no more complex than that.”
He said the joint operation was identified as gang enforcement, not an immigration roundup.
“Any contacts in regards to this operation were made because they were either flying gang colors or a known gang member,” the sheriff’s office asserted in its press release.
The operation began on Friday, June 17, with several contacts “with known and suspected gang members,” according to the sheriff’s office. However, no arrests were made that night.
Additional contacts took place on Saturday at the carnival location, when two arrests were made and one summons was issued.
Among those arrested was David Centeno, 25, (no address provided), whom authorities had identified as being in the United States illegally after having been deported numerous times. He also had outstanding local warrants for his arrest, according to sheriff’s officials.
“He was informed he was being placed under arrest by the Glenwood Springs Police Department. At that time he resisted arrest and ran from officers,” the sheriff’s release said.
He was ultimately apprehended and is in the Garfield County Jail for the outstanding warrants. He is also on an ICE hold for deportation.
“Mr. Centeno has been deported from the U.S. on four prior occasions and was prosecuted federally in 2007 for illegal entry,” according to the sheriff’s office.
Although Centeno apparently does have a criminal history, including felony weapons, larceny and fraud convictions dating back to the mid-2000s, according to information released by the sheriff’s office, his wife, Melissa Hernandez, said he is not a gang member.
“My husband is a hard-working man who supports his three children,” she told the Post Independent in an email sent late Thursday night. “What they did to him was very unfair. My 4-year-old son is still talking about the incident.”
Hernandez said she and Centeno had taken their two oldest children to the carnival when the confrontation with the police occurred. She also questioned the force used to subdue him when he tried to run.
“My husband knew immigration was going to take him and decided to run,” she said. “After they caught him, I saw he had scratches all over his face and arms and neck and on his back.”
That same day, authorities also contacted brothers Julio and Cesar Alvarez-Cortez.
“Reports from their family stated that they were arrested in front of their children. That was false information used to misinform the public,” the sheriff’s office said. “Julio and Cesar were requested to continue speaking with officers at the mobile command center.
“Upon arrival at the mobile command center, it was confirmed that Julio was a prior deportee from the U.S. in 2001,” according to the sheriff’s statement. “He was informed he was being placed in ICE custody at that time.”
Cesar Alvarez-Cortez was also believed to be in the country illegally, although he had an expired work authorization card. But because he is a single father and had no prior deportations, he was issued a summons and released, according to authorities.
All together, authorities contacted approximately 20 purported gang members, according to the sheriff’s press release.
“Law enforcement made their presence known and had any gang member flying colors, bandannas or gang related clothing remove them while at the fair,” it said.
CIRC’s Greene said his organization refutes the allegations that the suspects have actual gang ties, and said it still appears to be a violation of ICE policies. He also questioned the sheriff’s office’s role in the operation.
“The most concerning thing is that the sheriff appeared to be taking the lead on an ICE operation,” Greene said. “What little trust the Latino community had in the Garfield County Sheriff’s Department just went out the window.”
Vallario could not be reached Friday for further comment beyond what was in the press release.
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Policy that dictates what for-profit activities should be officially sanctioned within Glenwood Springs parks is being reviewed by city staff and will likely come before the city council for final approval later this summer.