CIRC: Hold public forum on racial profiling
CARBONDALE, Colorado – An immigrant rights group that has accused Carbondale’s school resource police officer of racial profiling in his dual work with federal immigration enforcement agents is standing behind its claims. The group is also calling for a community forum to discuss the issue.
“We believe it’s obvious that the town and the police chief need to hear from more folks on this,” said Brendan Greene, Rocky Mountain Region organizer for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC).
“We’re happy to have this debate, and to open the debate up to the community,” he said.
In a statement issued on Monday, Greene’s organization accused Carbondale Police Officer Alvaro Agon, 26, of using his position as the local school resource officer (SRO) to profile Latino students and their families for possible criminal and immigration violations, then turning them over to U.S. Immigration and Customs (ICE) officials.
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“We stand behind the claims that we have made, and believe it is having an impacting, chilling effect in the schools,” Greene said.
An officer for the past 3 1/2 years with the Carbondale Police Department and a native of Columbia, Agon had also worked as a liaison with ICE up until about six months ago, his attorney, Tom Adgate, said.
“He did have a relationship with ICE for approximately six months, up until about six months ago,” Adgate said. “He no longer works for ICE.”
Adgate said the allegations of racial profiling have been looked into by Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling and are unfounded. He has asked for a public apology from CIRC, and has pledged to file a defamation of character lawsuit against CIRC and Greene if Agon’s name is not cleared.
But Greene has refused to back down.
“We stand 100 percent behind our allegations, based on the concerns that have been brought to us by the community,” Greene said. “We believe this officer’s actions are inappropriate, and we strongly feel the truth will speak for itself over time.”
He cites more than two dozen statements collected from Latino families by a local student advocacy group. The statements, he said, provide evidence that Agon has targeted immigrant students and questioned them about their parents’ immigration status.
CIRC, along with the student group Asociacion de Jovenes Unidos en Accion (AJUA), made up of Roaring Fork Valley high school students, are calling for Agon to be removed from the SRO position and suspended from the police force pending further investigation of the charges.
“This is a big issue in the community, and it’s a debate we are willing to have,” Greene said. “We want an opportunity for people to come and speak, whether they support officer Agon or oppose this collaboration that has been occurring.”
A specific date, time and location for the planned forum has yet to be determined, he said.
According to Chief Schilling, Agon has been the department’s designated SRO since shortly after he was hired in 2008.
The Roaring Fork School District contributes $15,000 to each of the SRO positions in Carbondale, Basalt and Glenwood Springs. That amount covers roughly a quarter of Agon’s wages, Schilling said.
Schilling acknowledged that the SROs are part of a task force working with ICE to identify and guard against possible gang activity and recruitment in the schools and in the larger community.
“They were concerned about gangs recruiting and being in our schools, so the SROs were the likely person to include with that task force,” he said.
He said the accusations against Agon surfaced about four months ago, and he agreed to meet with the group and look into the charges. Agon is currently taking some vacation time and is not on duty, Schilling said.
Schilling and Adgate both point to what they believe to be broad community support for Agon, including school faculty members who work closely with him. After CIRC issued its statement earlier this week, several school officials spoke out in his defense.
Adgate said that, in general, Agon’s police work involved targeting suspects for possible criminal activities. Never was the focus on a suspect’s immigration status, he said.
“You’ll never find a case where Alvaro was pursuing someone just based on immigration violations,” he said. “ICE doesn’t go after someone unless there is criminal activity involved.”
As for the accusations against Agon, “There may be a criminal element in the Latino community that doesn’t like Alvaro … I guess because he’s doing his job,” Adgate said. “But the majority of the Latino community supports him.”
Criminal gang activity was also said to be the focus of a joint operation between ICE and local law enforcement agencies at the Strawberry Days carnival in Glenwood Springs last June, which CIRC also strongly criticized.
Agon was present when three arrests were made June 18 at the carnival venue at the Glenwood Springs Mall. The suspects were ultimately detained for immigration violations.
Agon was recently named as one of several defendants in a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of the family of one of the men who was arrested.
“Defendant Agon works as an ICE informant, and uses the information he obtains and relationships he builds in his capacity as a school resource officer to support ICE enforcement operations,” alleges the lawsuit, filed by Glenwood Springs attorney Ted Hess for the family of Julio Alvarez-Cortez.
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