Investigation reports released today by the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office show a longstanding practice of sharing information with federal immigration authorities, and a lack of training on how to responsibly cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, despite 30-year-old state laws that spell out what level of cooperation is legal.
Ten months after three Multnomah County Sheriff deputies faced criticism for sharing information with ICE agents after their emails were released to the public on Jan. 31, the agency has released its investigation reports.
Sheriff Mike Reese's office initially refused to release results of the investigation. But Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill ordered the records released after WW appealed that refusal.
The investigation into Deputy Larry Wenzel, whose emails with ICE were first published by WW, shows a disconnect between state policy barring cooperation with federal immigration agents and the actual policies at work in local law enforcement.
Wenzel, a 21-year MCSO veteran, told MCSO investigators that he had never received any training on how to interact with ICE agents during his 852 hours of training. Other officers said they had not received any guidance related to cooperating with immigration agents prior to Wenzel's emails becoming public, when Sheriff Mike Reese announced a policy change.
In fact, Wenzel says he thought that the cooperation was "mandated" by the agency's policies.
He said the first time he heard about the state law limiting local law enforcement's cooperation with ICE was "when he read newspaper reports about his own interaction with ICE," according to the investigation reports.
The report says that cooperation with ICE has long been commonplace inside MCSO.
"MCSO has quietly cooperated with ICE in many ways for decades in spite of the statute," it concludes, "and it is difficult to believe that Wenzel and his Close Street supervisors were aware of the Oregon statute or any expectation that cooperation with ICE was prohibited."
The investigation shows that Wenzel was first approached by ICE agents in December about a suspect participating in the Close Street Supervision Program—a program that monitors people who have been arrested and are awaiting trial. The man, Julio Montejomex, had been arrested on domestic violence charges for allegedly assaulting a woman in her car.
When a judge ordered Montejomex released into the Close Street supervision program instead of staying in jail, Wenzel arranged a meeting between ICE agents and the suspect to facilitate his arrest. It took two tries for ICE agents to successfully apprehend the man because of "poor weather".
Shortly after that arrest, Wenzel contacted ICE about another suspect, Rutilio Ortega-Alacron, who had been released into the Close Street program after being arrested on a Sex Abuse 1 charge. He had been arrested for a two-year-old allegation that he had taken inappropriate photographs of his girlfriend's daughter. Ortega-Alacron had no prior convictions and Wenzel said he did not know if the man was undocumented but that ICE agents should "check him out."
Sheriff Reese had been overseeing MCSO, and its policies on cooperating with immigration officials, since he took over as sheriff in August 2016.
He publicly supported the county's sanctuary policies on Jan. 25, saying that cooperation with ICE undercut MCSO's ability to "nurture a relationship of trust with everyone in our community. When our community trusts us, they share information about crime, and victimization, that they may not otherwise share—and that makes us all safer."
However, Reese did not make any changes to the agency's policies on cooperating with ICE until Wenzel's emails surfaced a week later.
Oregon state law bars local and state law enforcement from using any local resources, including personnel, to assist in enforcing federal immigration laws against any individuals whose only violation is an immigration-related offense. It does allow, however, for officers to cooperate when suspects have prior criminal convictions.
Wenzel told investigators that he did not call ICE agents every time an undocumented individual came under his supervision.
MCSO also released investigation reports for two other deputies whose emails showed they communicated with ICE agents. Both those deputies were also cleared of wrongdoing.