Publication: Skagit Valley Herald; Date: Apr 12, 2007
Section: Front Page; Page Number: A1
Ralph Schwartz can be reached at 360-416-2138 or [email protected]
By RALPH SCHWARTZ, Staff Writer
Federal immigration authorities decided not to deport an undocumented immigrant who was beaten, then arrested, by two U.S. Border Patrol agents last spring at a school bus stop in Mount Vernon’s Kulshan Creek neighborhood.
Manuel Rios, the Seattle based lawyer for Isabel Valencia Perez, said in an interview that Immigration and Customs Enforcement dropped the case in October because two Border Patrol agents allegedly violated his client’s constitutional rights when they arrested him.
An investigation by the Mount Vernon Police Department confirmed eyewitness accounts that Border Patrol agents Daryl Schermerhorn and Steven Malpezzi beat Valencia after approaching him at a school bus stop at 11:20 a.m. on June 12, 2006. Valencia was waiting to meet his son, who was in kindergarten.
The first agent confronted Valencia just as his son’s school bus arrived, witnesses said.
Rios filed a motion in immigration court to suppress evidence gathered after the arrest, arguing the evidence was obtained illegally. ICE did not contest the motion, but agency spokeswoman Virginia Kice would not confirm that this was because of the actions of the Border Patrol agents.
“We didn’t feel we had the evidence in this case to prevail,” Kice said. An immigration court judge in Seattle terminated the case Oct. 16. No public notice of the action was issued at the time.
Valencia had been held at an immigration detention center in Tacoma for more than six weeks until his release in late July.
Schermerhorn punched Valencia in the face and wrestled him to the ground in a gravel area, according to witnesses and a Mount Vernon police report. Valencia’s face was swollen, and he had cuts on his chest and face, the report said.
Agent Malpezzi held a gun to Valencia’s head while Schermerhorn held him down, police said. The two agents were dressed in plain clothes, and Valencia told police they did not identify themselves as federal agents until several minutes into the altercation, according to the report.
The two agents had minor cuts and scratches. Neither Valencia nor the agents received medical attention. Skagit County Prosecuting Attorney Tom Seguine decided not to file felony assault charges against the agents because Valencia’s injuries were not severe enough, and Malpezzi could have argued that he drew his weapon in the line of duty, according to the prosecutor’s notice of charging decision, provided to the Skagit Valley Herald last year.
In his motion to suppress evidence, attorney Rios said the agents racially profiled Valencia, who was sitting in the grass along North 26th Street when the agents confronted him.
The agents told police Valencia squirmed and made lingering eye contact with them as they drove by in their unmarked, policestyle Crown Victoria. He also fled as Schermerhorn approached him, they said. Rios argued in his motion that such behavior is not enough to provoke reasonable suspicion, and that the agents violated Valencia’s Fourth Amendment right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. “The court must conclude the agents relied on race alone in the decision to stop Mr. Valencia,” Rios wrote in his motion.
Valencia reportedly continues to live with his family in Skagit County. Neighbors have described him as a devout Christian and a hard worker who dotes on his four sons.
His case is in a small minority of deportation proceedings that are terminated. About 80 percent of cases result in removal of an immigrant from the country, according to statistics kept by the Executive Office for Immigration Review.
Of more than 273,000 cases resolved from October 2005 through September 2006, 5.8 percent were terminated, either because the prosecutor dropped the case or the defendant had gained some legal status, said Elaine Komis, spokeswoman for the Immigration Review office.