In June, we told you about two men who were questioned by Immigration and Customs Enforcement at a carnival connected with Glenwood Springs' Strawberry Days festival. One of those men, Julio Alvarez-Cortez, has now filed a lawsuit against the officers involved, including Carbondale cop Alvaro Agon.
Meanwhile, Agon is facing more criticism for what some see as his dual role as ICE collaborator and school resource officer.
"From what I've heard about this officer, he, in a way, befriends people and figures out if they're undocumented and then finds a way to deport them," says Alex Alvarado, a recent graduate of Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale, where Agon serves as school resource officer. Alvarado is also a member of a local student advocacy group called the Asociacion de Jovenes Unidos en Accion, or AJUA. The group has been collecting complaints about Agon, with help from the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, or CIRC.
"We have some cases documented of him questioning students about their parents' status," says CIRC organizer Brendan Greene. "We have instances of him deporting family members of parents and students at the schools. Then, those same children have to see him at school in the following days... It makes them not feel safe at the school."
A list of anonymous complaints about Agon provided to Westword by CIRC includes instances of Agon following students to their homes, circling their blocks in his car and pulling them over for what they see as no reason other than that they're Latino. "Whenever Alvaro sees us, he will turn around and begin following us," one said.
Others report feeling uncomfortable around him because he helped deport a family member. "My five-year-old niece knows who Alvaro is," one parent said. "Whenever she sees him, she says, 'That is the man who detained my uncle.'"
Agon's attorney, Tom Adgate, says that Agon did at one time work as the Carbondale police department's liaison to ICE. The position lasted six months, Adgate says, but Agon gave it up "because he didn't want to do it anymore."
In response to the complaints, Roaring Fork High principal Cliff Colia says he suspended Agon from his duties as school resource officer for six weeks in order to investigate the claims. So far, Colia says he's spoken with seventy students about Agon -- and he says none of them have reported being personally harassed.
"I haven't found anything to support the allegations," Colia says.
In the two years Agon has served as the school resource officer, Colia says he's done a "fabulous" job. Agon regularly attends school sporting events and dances and has a good relationship with the students, he says. "He acts more like a brother or an interested uncle than anything else," Colia says. "He's very warm-hearted."
Adgate, Agon's attorney, calls the accusations "ludicrous.
"Alvaro never arrested anybody on an immigration charge only," he says. In his duties as a police officer, Adgate says Agon has sometimes arrested people who also happen to be undocumented immigrants on sex, drug or domestic violence charges but said his client is innocent of racial profiling. "He's doing his job," Adgate says.
Unless his accusers issue a public apology, Agon is considering filing a defamation lawsuit against them, Adgate says. "They have absolutely defamed his character and he's crushed by it," Adgate says. He says Agon is being targeted because he, too, is Latino.
"Apparently, in our community, it's common practice that Latinos go after Latino officers," Adgate says. "They can't pull that 'no hablo Ingles' with him."
Adgate is also defending Agon in the civil lawsuit related to Strawberry Days. It alleges that Agon is an "ICE informant" who designated two men, Julio Alvarez-Cortez and his brother Cesar Alvarez, "for pick up" by Garfield County deputy sheriffs. Agon knew them because both are active parents at Carbondale Middle School, the lawsuit alleges.
The men were taken by the deputy sheriffs to an area outside the carnival where ICE had set up a mobile detention center, the lawsuit says. They were asked to produce identification and threatened with detention. Alvarez was let go because he's a single father of twin daughters, the lawsuit says, but his brother remains in ICE custody.
The plaintiffs allege the arrest was wrong for several reasons, including that the deputies were not authorized to act as ICE agents and that ICE shouldn't have been at the carnival in the first place because, according to the lawsuit, ICE policy dictates that "operations should not take place in venues where children are likely to be found."
Adgate says Agon wasn't part of the arrest and wasn't working with ICE at that time. "We believe this is a malicious lawsuit," he says. Agon, he says, is a model officer. "He goes out of his way to help kids and the Latino community," Adgate says.
The Carbondale police department has refused media interviews. But it has issued a statement. "The town prides itself in supporting the existence of an ethnically and culturally diverse community," the statement says. "The police department will continue to look into specific complaints of employees through our established policies and procedures. We also value the rights of our employees and will defer on making any specific comments concerning any individual."
As for Colia, the high school principal is waiting until things cool off before bringing Agon back into the school. "I hope Officer A. gets things squared away," he says.
More from our Immigration archives: "Lesbian immigrant facing deportation granted reprieve while feds review all deportation cases."
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