The July 10 death of William Anderson, a forty-year-old inmate at Denver's main jail, has led to a war of words between the Denver Sheriff Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Anderson died during a fight with fellow detainee Ricardo Lopez-Vera, nineteen. But while the Denver District Attorney's Office declined to charge Lopez-Vera in the incident, his undocumented status led to detention by ICE, which claims the DSD released him without properly informing the federal agency even though there was an immigration hold on him.
The Anderson homicide was controversial from the beginning, since it took place on the same day as a press conference about the Denver jail death of Marvin Booker almost seven years to the day earlier. (Booker's family believes a coverup took place after the street preacher's passing; they are demanding a criminal investigation into the whereabouts of a missing Taser and other alleged inconsistencies.) And the tension ratcheted higher after the Colorado Latino Forum suggested in a statement that conditions at the facility, formally known as the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center, may have contributed to the fatality.
"CLF has been warning Sheriff Patrick Firman, Safety Director Stephanie O'Malley, City Attorney Kristin Bronson and Mayor Michael Hancock about an impending tragedy as a result of the critical situation in Denver's jails due to jail overcrowding, extreme staff shortages and rising assaults," the statement notes. "While not all of the facts are out, we fully expect a transparent investigation, not only of the direct actors involved, but also an up-the-chain inquiry."
The Denver DA's office inquiry into the matter concluded that Anderson died during a "mutual fight" with Lopez-Vera in the vicinity of the showers in a detention-center pod. But the decision not to prosecute him led to other complications, owing to his past troubles with the law — he'd been detained on a misdemeanor warrant, and he was also wanted in Aurora on a car-theft beef — and the aforementioned immigration matter.
Inside Denver's Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center.
After ICE complained to Fox31 that the agency hadn't been given adequate warning about when and where Lopez-Vera was to be released, the Denver Sheriff Department put out the following response:
Ricardo Lopez Vera was taken into custody by the Denver Sheriff Department on June 8, 2017 at 7:14 a.m. The DSD received a notification of release request from ICE for Mr. Vera on Tuesday, July 11, at 3:30 p.m. The DSD notified ICE of the pending release the same day at 10.07pm. Mr. Vera was released from DSD’s custody on July 12, 2017, at 10:39 a.m. — more than 12 hours after ICE was notified.
DSD spokesman Simon Crittle subsequently elaborated on the situation like so: "ICE is aware that the Denver Sheriff Department, like every other city in the state of Colorado, does not honor detainers without a criminal warrant because it is unconstitutional. Upon request, we notify ICE when we are releasing someone — so they can make their own arrest. The Denver Sheriff Department notified ICE that Ricardo Lopez-Vera was going to be released more than twelve hours prior to the actual release, which occurred on July 12, 2017, at 10.39 a.m. Upon release from DSD custody, he was taken to the hospital. Releasing an individual from jail is a multi-step process that is sometimes affected by circumstances beyond our control, meaning the DSD is not able to provide exact details of a release before it happens."
This explanation doesn't appear to have placated ICE, which has had difficulty operating with impunity in Denver of late; note the procedures the city recently put in place to counteract federal agents operating in local courthouses.
Ricardo Lopez-Vera's most recent booking photo.
Denver Police Department
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No surprise, then, that ICE specifically contradicted the assertions made by the sheriff department in its own statement:
On July 18, 2017, officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested Ricardo Daniel Lopez-Vera, 19, from Mexico, in Denver. Lopez-Vera is currently in ICE custody pending a hearing before a federal immigration judge.
Lopez-Vera became an ICE fugitive after he was released by Denver County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) on July 12, 2017. ICE had placed an immigration detainer on him July 11. However, DCSO released him without notifying ICE when and where he would be released despite the ICE detainer, and despite his extensive criminal history, which included him killing a fellow Denver County Jail inmate just a few days beforehand.
Lopez-Vera was convicted of driving while ability impaired (DWAI) in Arapahoe County, Colorado, in August 2015. He has another misdemeanor conviction in Arapahoe County, Colorado, in September 2014. ICE had not encountered Lopez-Vera before a detainer was placed on him July 11, 2017.
It was inaccurate of ICE to lump the death of Anderson under Lopez-Vera's criminal history, since he wasn't charged with a crime in the case, and the contention that convictions on a DWAI and another misdemeanor justify the use of the word "extensive" is debatable. What's not debatable is that the relationship between ICE and Denver officials is seriously strained, and this state of affairs seems unlikely to change anytime soon.