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Saturday, November 6, 2010

ICE Fakes Accident, Invades Home

ice agent chris carter

ICE Agent Christopher Carter teaches about identity fraud

This article originally appeared as ICE Fakes Accident, Invades Bedroom on Technorati

Steve Turza, a federal agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), shredded the U.S. Constitution in a zealous effort to rid Colorado of “illegals”.  In the process, Turza illegally entered a house without a warrant, impersonated a police officer, entered the private bedroom of a partially clothed woman, and lied to a federal judge.  No doubt, considering Turza’s 25 year career with ICE, these practices have been going on for years.

hearing the stories

Protesting in front of Denver ICE Detention

On March 24th, 2009, Turza headed an ICE team executing an administrative warrant looking for undocumented workers in Snowmass Village near Aspen, Colorado.  The warrants are known as “Knock and Talk” because they are civil warrants, not criminal, issued by ICE administrators, instead of an impartial judge.  Therefore, the warrants grant only limited authority.  Agents can knock on the door and ask for permission to enter.  Agents are required to identify themselves.  What identity did this agent assume?

“Police!  Open up!  There has been an accident outside your house!” Turza allegedly yelled at the doorway.  It was about 5:30 a.m. and very cold.

ICE agents often call local police when executing a “Knock and Talk” to get workers to open the door.  When they do, federal agents pounce.  According to witnesses, Turza didn’t bother with the county Mounties.  Instead, he impersonated one, a possible violation of state criminal law. 

When no one answered the door Turza went inside, his second violation of the warrant.  Turza said he considered the living room a public hallway since several families shared the residence and each had a private bedroom.  He also insisted the door was “propped wide open” in the freezing night air.  More, Turza said he was concerned for the safety of those inside since somewhere in Colorado an entire family had died of carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Once inside, Turza entered the private bedroom of Citali Guerrero-Parada and woke her from sleep by shining his flashlight into her eyes.   As the partially clothed Citali began to get out of bed, Turza quickly left the bedroom closing the door behind him. 

“Police.  Come out of your room!” Turza allegedly screamed or in similar words, from the other side of the closed door. “There is an accident outside!  I want to make sure you are safe!”

Citali looked through the window facing onto the street.  There was no accident outside.  Who was this creep shining his light into her eyes and yelling through the door?   Citali’s son, also in the room, was frightened.  Her husband was likely furious!

Finally, the family gave in and obeyed Turza’s command to bring their identification documents to the living room.  Once there, Citali and her family met with their housemates who related similar stories of being herded by “police officers concerned for their safety”.  One of the females had been so frightened she ran from her room “undressed”. 

“We are going to ask you some questions and you have to tell the truth.” said “Officer” Turza, without mentioning another option, the basic right to remain silent.  “Is there anyone here with the last name of Garcia?”

The only one named “Garcia” was one of the ICE agents.  No one named Garcia had ever lived in the house.  The ruse was up.  This was an immigration raid.  Everyone in the house was cuffed and taken to immigration detention.

“Physical entry of a home is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment (against unreasonable search and seizure) is directed.”  In most cases, the Fourth Amendment is not applied to undocumented immigrants.   However, with egregious violations, an undocumented immigrant’s Fifth Amendment right to due process may be violated.

At trial, Turza said he and 8 to 10 officers assembled at the home based upon a 5 month old tip undocumented workers were living at the residence.  Turza could have gotten a warrant but the agents elected to operate under the ICE policy of “Knock and Talk”.

Turza didn’t bother to tell Judge John W. Davis that ICE policy prohibits “Knock and Talks” except through the Fugitive Operations Team, a special ICE detail whose mission is to identify and remove criminal undocumented aliens.  Since Turza had not told the court about the limitation on "Knock and Talks", he likely figured he didn’t need to mention no member of the Fugitive Operations Team was present that day.  All of the other judges had bought it.

One can imagine the judge's surprise when ICE agent, Chris Carter, told the court about the prohibitions to the “Walk and Talk” warrant.  Carter likely was not present when Turza testified.  Carter also said ICE policy prohibits use of this technique prior to 6:00 a.m.  Based upon testimony, it is clear this raid was in full process by 5:30 a.m., another Turza lie to the Court.

Meanwhile, the agents insisted they told the people sleeping in various bedrooms they were ICE agents, and asked each person if they would come to the living room to chat.   They forgot to mention the part about masquerading as police officers.  The agents insisted, the immigrants willingly gave up their rights and spilled the beans, making deportation easy.

The version told by the undocumented workers was very different.  They said the officers identified themselves as “police”.  They said ICE went through their front door which was closed.  Many spoke about their fear.  No one was advised of their right to remain silent or their right to speak to an attorney. 

By the end of the trial, the judge found the testimony of Turza “unreliable”.  That is legal-speak for “he lied”.  The judge said if the door was really open there was no reason to suspect carbon monoxide.  Who would leave their living room door open in the middle of ski-country U.S.A.? 

Further, with  a 5 month lead time, Turza had plenty of time to get a warrant.  The judge said reasonable agents should have known they were violating the Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights of the undocumented workers.
Steve Turza has made a mockery of the notion of justice and our Fourth Amendment right to be secure within our homes.  This could have been anyone’s home.  Mistakes have been made before.  Cases of this nature rarely occur out of the blue.  A veteran with 25 years of service would not risk his future without support from higher up.   

For undocumented workers in Aspen, Turza made trusting local police officers difficult.  That makes reporting crimes unlikely for undocumented workers.  Criminals prey on the immigrant community and when that gets boring, they go after U.S. citizens. 

Most of all, Turza has made the job of every ICE officer who works hard to get it right much harder.  Unfortunately, according to a report by the Cardozo Immigration Justice Clinic, Turza is not alone.  These kinds of practices have been going on for a long time in many jurisdictions.

Thanks to a courageous decision by Immigration judge John W. Davis, the government's evidence was excluded against three of the immigrants, Citali Guerrero-Parada, Isabel Guerrero-Parada and Mario Soto-Gutierrez.  Perhaps Turza will think twice about picking on helpless immigrants in the future.  Probably not.

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