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Sheriff disputes ICE after inmate releases

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office ignored their requests to hold two fugitives in the jail.

Jackson County Sheriff Nate Sickler, however, said ICE never charged the suspects with a new crime before the jail released two men held on drug trafficking charges.

On April 28, Oregon State Police arrested Francisco Vazquez-Cruz, 24, of Compton, California, and Leonel Campos-Valdez, 25, no known address, on drug charges after a traffic stop near Gold Hill in which police allegedly seized 19.4 pounds of methamphetamine and $16,600 in cash. The next day, the suspects were released from the jail on their own recognizance after signing agreements pledging to remain in the county, submit to GPS monitoring and make their next court appearance set for June 4, Jackson County Circuit Court records show.

The day the men were released, however, ICE said it placed immigration detainers on Vazquez-Cruz and Campos-Valdez, which the sheriff’s office refused to honor, according to a press release issued May 6 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The release said that Vazquez-Cruz had been deported in January 2016, and that Campos-Valdez had a prior conviction for illegal reentry from 2014.

“The Jackson County Jail did not honor the detainers and released both illegal aliens back into the community the same day,” the release stated. “Campos-Valdez and Vasquez-Cruz are ICE fugitives subject to criminal prosecution for illegally reentering the United States.”

Sickler said ICE gave the jail civil detainers on the suspects, which were not sufficient to hold them under Oregon law, because ICE didn’t charge Vazquez-Cruz or Campos-Valdez with any state or federal crime, according to a press release from the sheriff.

“By law, we are unable to honor these detainers, and this has been the case for the last five years,” Sickler said in the release. “ICE knows and understands this but they have to file them knowing they cannot be honored.”

Oregon Revised Statute 181A.820 has prevented state and local law enforcement agencies from arresting people suspected only of violating federal immigration statutes since it was passed by the Oregon Legislature in 1987.

Voters rejected a 2018 ballot measure that sought to strike Oregon’s sanctuary law. Sickler voiced neither support nor opposition to Measure 105 prior to the election.

The sheriff’s office can — and does — hold inmates arrested by ICE on criminal charges.

Celerino Meraz, 43, of White City, is currently held in the Jackson County Jail on a criminal charge of illegal reentry filed in U.S. District Court in Medford, records show. The Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement arrested Meraz, also known as Celerino Meraz-Valencia, April 10. Three days after Meraz was arrested on drug charges, ICE issued a criminal detainer signed by a judge that alleged Meraz entered the United States without authorization after being deported at least four times before.

Sickler said Campos-Valdez and Vazquez-Cruz were released because of the jail’s reduced capacity as part of measures designed to slow the spread of COVID-19. In April, the jail’s inmate population dropped from 315 to 215. Sickler said maintaining that level requires jail staff to make decisions with “no good choices.”

Sickler released an inmate roster showing dozens held on felony sex crime charges — such as rape, sodomy and sexual abuse — and others charged with Measure 11 crimes including arson, assault and attempted murder.

“We are not happy to have to force release anyone from custody, but we have too many offenders and not enough bed space,” Sickler said. “This has been exacerbated by COVID-19.”

Vazquez-Cruz and Campos-Valdez have already been accused of violating terms of their release agreements, court records show.

According to a May 6 court filing, Deputy District Attorney Patrick Green sought to revoke the release agreements because the suspects never reported to Jackson County Community Justice and didn’t enroll in GPS monitoring. A judge will decide at a May 18 hearing whether the suspects violated their release agreement.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

Jackson County Jail.