The Fairfax County Police Department said an officer suspended for handing over a person encountered during a traffic accident investigation to Immigration and Customs Enforcement violated longstanding arrest procedure.
“Training at our Academy, as clearly outlined in lesson plans, as well as in-service training reinforces to our personnel that we do not enforce nor detain for administrative warrants and we have no authority to enforce federal law,” Fairfax County Police Chief Ed Roessler said in a statement Tuesday. “We have also been working closely with community members and advocates to review our General Orders in this regard.”
According to Roessler, the incident began at a Sept. 21 afternoon traffic accident in the Alexandria, Va., area. While checking the information of one driver who did not have a license, the officer — who was not named — learned the unidentified driver had an ICE administrative warrant for failure to appear at a deportation hearing.
The officer reached out to the ICE point of contact and was told the agent was coming to the scene of the crash.
The officer then issued a summons to the driver for driving without a license, which the driver signed; normally, a driver would then be released. But the officer placed the driver in custodial detention in order to turn the driver over to ICE agents.
Fairfax County Police policy since 2007 reads, “If the response reads ‘OUTSTANDING ADMINISTRATIVE WARRANT OF REMOVAL’ and the individual is not in custody or being taken into custody for any other violation of law, officers shall not confirm the hit through LESC and shall not take the individual into custody based solely upon the IVF hit. The majority of such administrative warrants represent civil violations of immigration law.”
The officer has been “relieved of all law enforcement duties pending the outcome of this investigation” as the department enforces internal policies and will “hold all accountable for their actions,” the chief said.
“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. “We have been informed by ICE that the driver was released after three hours and issued an ankle monitor. 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.”
“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,” he added. “This matter damages our reputation and the longstanding policy that I have stated many times that our officers shall not act as immigration agents.”
Roessler said at another point that the officer had been on the force for “a few years” and did not appear to have willfully violated the department’s immigration policy. He said the incident is the first of its kind at the department.
It wasn’t clear how long the officer might be off duty or what punishment the officer could face, but the chief indicated that retraining on departmental policy would occur.
ICE said last week that the agency had recently completed a five-day targeted enforcement surge in Washington, D.C., and Virginia, resulting in the arrests of 57 people originally from Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador, Argentina, Bolivia and Kazakhstan. Forty-one of those people had previous arrests, pending charges or convictions, ICE said.
UPDATE 10/3: The officer was returned to duty today. “We have one of the best police forces in the U.S. and I have confidence that our officer will represent us well throughout his career,” Roessler said. “Our internal administrative investigation continues as prescribed by policy.”