The Fairfax County Police Department is investigating one of its own after an officer violated department policy by detaining a driver and turning them over to federal immigration authorities.
The officer was relieved of all law enforcement duties on Oct. 1, and then re-instated to duty Oct. 4, pending the full outcome of an internal investigation, according to Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin Roessler Jr.
“As a matter of full transparency to our community, our police officer violated our longstanding policy and deprived a person of their freedom, which is unacceptable,” Roessler said in a statement on the FCPD’s website. “…When I learned of this event, I directed an immediate internal investigation to look at all factors in this matter to ensure that all are held accountable for this violation.”
The incident in question occurred at 2:46 p.m. on Sept. 21 when a Fairfax County police officer responded to a traffic accident on Harrison Lane at South Kings Highway in Alexandria.
After learning that one driver involved in the accident did not have a Virginia operator’s license, the officer obtained the driver’s information and conducted a check to verify the individual’s Department of Motor Vehicles record.
While conducting the check, the officer received a notification from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency saying there was an administrative violation warrant out for the driver for failing to appear for a deportation hearing, according to Roessler.
The officer, who is not named by the Fairfax County police chief, confirmed the information through the Fairfax County Department of Public Safety Communication’s teletype section, which is responsible for verifying all warrants with the originating agencies.
The officer proceeded to contact an ICE agent listed as the point of contact on the warrant’s confirmation. The ICE agent happened to be nearby and said they would respond to the location of the traffic crash.
In the meantime, the Fairfax County police officer issued a uniformed summons to the driver for not having a license.
After the driver signed the summons, the officer “then decided to detain the driver through a custodial detention and turned over custody to the ICE agent,” Roessler says.
In its general order on arrest procedures, the Fairfax County Police Department explains that officers automatically receive an alert for ICE administrative warrants when running a check on individuals through the FBI’s National Crime Information Center.
Officers are directed not to take individuals into custody solely on the basis of an outstanding administrative warrant of removal from ICE, a policy that the FCPD has followed since 2007, according to Roessler.
The police chief says the policy to not enforce or detain based on ICE administrative warrants is clearly laid out to police department recruits at the Fairfax County Criminal Justice Academy and reinforced for current personnel when they undergo in-service training.
“Our county is one of the most diverse counties in the nation and no one should have the perception that FCPD is acting as a civil immigration agent for ICE,” Roessler said. “This matter damages our reputation and the longstanding policy that I have stated many times that our officers shall not act as immigration agents.”
According to Roessler, the Fairfax County Police Department was informed by ICE that the driver was released from custody after three hours and issued an ankle monitor.
Fairfax County’s position on federal immigration issues has become a major point of contention as local elections for county supervisors and the school board loom in November.
The Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office, which operates the county’s Adult Detention Center, terminated an intergovernmental service agreement with ICE on May 23, 2018, ending its practice of holding inmates past their scheduled release date when they are subject to an administrative request.
The sheriff’s office still holds inmates if the ICE administrative request is accompanied by a court-issued criminal detainer and transfers custody of an inmate to ICE if federal authorities arrive before or at the time of their release.
The sheriff’s office has released 273 inmates with ICE detainers between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31 of this year, according to the county agency’s most recent data, which is collected monthly.
Of the 273 individuals who have been released, 231 inmates were transferred into ICE custody, while 42 returned to the community without being picked up by ICE. 95 inmates were convicted on local charges, and 178 were either not convicted or are out on bond.
Only five of the 231 inmates released to ICE had a criminal judicial warrant, and 29 of them were picked up within five days of their scheduled release from the Adult Detention Center, according to Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office public information officer Andrea Ceisler.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted on May 7 to allocate $200,000 in one-time funding to establish a universal representation pilot program that provides legal representation to immigrants who are facing deportation proceedings.
Developed by the nonprofits CASA and the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, the pilot was the first such program created by any Virginia jurisdiction. It drew support from immigrant rights advocates and criticism from some community members, including a couple of current supervisors and candidates for the board, who questioned the use of taxpayer funds.
According to a voters’ guide published on Sept. 16 by the grassroots organization ACLU People Power Fairfax, eight Board of Supervisors candidates have signed the group’s commitment to reform Fairfax County policies to require a judicial warrant to detain an immigrant based on ICE claims, limit information sharing with ICE as much as possible, and reduce arrests for minor offenses by expanding the types of documents considered proper identification.
Roessler says the Fairfax County Police Department has been “working closely with community members and advocates to review our General Orders” on dealing with federal immigration authorities.