The Kern County District Attorney’s Office in California said this week that it would not be filing criminal charges against two U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials involved in a crash that killed two farmworkers.
The couple, identified as Santos Hilario Garcia and Marcelina Garcia Profecto, were killed in a March 13 car crash while allegedly attempting to flee ICE. The couple, who were undocumented, left behind six children.
ICE later admitted the couple killed in the crash were not who they were looking for, and that they had been following the wrong suspects.
“Neither agent will face criminal charges as a result of this incident,” District Attorney Lisa Green said at a press conference on Wednesday.
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The local Delano Police Department had recommended charges against the two ICE agents, Ramiro Sanchez and Dimas Benitez, because they allegedly provided false information to police officers. One of the ICE agents claimed he was not in a “pursuit with emergency lights/sirens.” But video surveillance showed the agent’s vehicle had his emergency lights activated and was traveling in the same direction as the couple’s Ford Explorer.
Here are more details via the Bakersfield Californian:
ICE agents told police they had stopped the vehicle because Santos Garcia matched the description of a man agents were targeting. When the agents got out of their cars, the vehicle fled.
The agents said they followed without lights or sirens activated.
But police, citing video evidence, said “the two unmarked ICE vehicles were seen traveling in the same direction with emergency lights activated.”
But—and this is where things get technical—Green said “there is no evidence to suggest that either agent was in a ‘pursuit.’” Rather, she said, they were following the couple, meaning that they didn’t provide false information.
“A ‘pursuit,’ as that term is used in the law enforcement world, describes actively attempting to apprehend a suspect who is attempting to avoid arrest while operating a motor vehicle at high speed and using evasive driving techniques,” Green said at the press conference. “Were the agents following the Ford? Yes. Were they speeding and/or passing cars in order to catch up to the Ford? No. That is not depicted on the video evidence nor any witness statement that has been provided.”
Green said the video showed the agent’s car had his emergency lights on and the second agent had his rear emergency lights on. “There is no evidence presented from which I am able to conclude one way or another that either vehicle had the sirens activated.”
As for the emergency lights, “it is a reasonable interpretation of the evidence that the emergency lights that were activated for the traffic stop remained on after he jumped in his vehicle to follow the Ford. [The agent] was never asked if he turned his lights off after the traffic stop.”
Green said the agents stopped following the couple’s vehicle “because they observed the driver of the Ford Explorer driving recklessly and passing other motorists at a high rate of speed.”
She also noted three civilian witnesses interviewed about the accident all said the Ford was not being followed or chased by police at the time of the accident.
According to a police report obtained by the Los Angeles Times, the ICE agents were told they could leave the scene but they stayed and waited “for the male passenger to be identified, so they could determine whether he was the person they were pursuing.” It turned out that he wasn’t.
The United Farmworkers Foundation expressed its disappointment in the ruling:
The Kern County District Attorney’s Office statement is published in its entirety below: