SANTA CRUZ (CBS SF) — Responding to charges that they deceived police in a joint gang investigation, Department of Homeland Security officials said that the Santa Cruz police chief knew that immigrants could be held during the operation earlier this month.
Police claimed Thursday that prior to raids on Feb. 13 in Santa Cruz, Daly City and Watsonville that Homeland Security officials repeatedly told them that immigration actions weren’t part of the operation.
Police Chief Kevin Vogel Friday morning denied the claim that he knew before the sweep that immigration holds would be part of the gang operation.
He also said that no one in the department knew of the immigration operation.
During the criminal operation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents held 11 people to determine their immigration status, San Francisco area Homeland Security spokesman James Schwab said.
Ten of them were released while one person remains in custody because of his criminal history and ties to the alleged gang operation, Schwab said. Of those released, some may have received summons to appear in immigration court, according to Schwab.
Information on the 11 who were detained may be available next week.
Mayor Cynthia Chase said she is outraged over what happened and Vogel said Homeland Security officials deceived the Police Department.
But Schwab said Vogel acknowledged beforehand the possibility that immigrants could be detained. Also, Schwab said Vogel and Homeland Security officials agreed, “that no foreign nationals would enter the Santa Cruz Police Department’s facility or their police vehicles.”
Schwab said a police claim that Homeland Security secretly planned the immigration operation during that last five years in hopes that a new U.S. president would allow such a thing is false, reckless and disturbing.
“It’s unfortunate when politics get intertwined with a well-planned and executed public safety operation,” Homeland Security Special Agent-in-Charge Ryan Spradlin said in a statement. “When politics undermine law and order, the only winners are the criminals.”
“I told the Deputy Chief that rather than disparaging this operation, the community of Santa Cruz should understand that they are safer because of it,” Spradlin said.
Homeland Security operations are fluid and situations arise that require attention on site, Schwab said.
But Vogel said that the immigration holds were not done until after his officers left the field, “which begs the question as to why these detentions did not occur while my staff were present and why Homeland Security officials have not been completely forthcoming to us with information about this.”
According to Schwab, the criminal aspect of the operation netted 10 alleged gang members suspected of federal offenses. Those arrested are alleged to be part of a notorious transnational gang.
Schwab also said those detained based on their immigration status were associated with suspected gang members.
According to police, the criminal operation was conducted when it was to prevent a homicide they believed was going to happen soon.