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Santa Cruz Police Chief Kevin Vogel at a Feb. 24 news conference where he said his office had been betrayed by immigration officials

KSBW-TV did a fine job covering the recent dust-up between the Santa Cruz Police Department and the Department of Homeland Security over the raid that resulted in the arrests of about 10 members of a violent street gang and arrests of another 10 or so undocumented residents.

The station even provided video of the entire Feb. 24 news conference in which Santa Cruz Police Chief Kevin Vogel and Deputy Chief Dan Flippo explained how they felt federal officials had lied to them about how the undocumented would be handled. Vogel and Flippo said they were assured, repeatedly and falsely, that any undocumented residents encountered in connection with the Feb. 13 raid would not be subject to deportation.

The arrests of the undocumented as opposed to the gang suspects sparked loud protest in Santa Cruz, one of some 40 or so sanctuary cities in California. That means it is city policy not to let its police department function as an arm of the federal immigration force.

Unfortunately, the president and manager of KSBW, Joe Heston, apparently didn’t pay close attention to the video or details of the exchange between the two agencies. I say unfortunately because Heston, in his latest on-air editorial, casually rejects Vogel’s position. Apparently armed with nothing except a vague news release from Homeland Security, he essentially dismisses Vogel as “naïve” and declares Homeland Security the winner of the debate.

Heston notes that his reporters have had positive dealings with Vogel for some 16 years and consider him a “good guy.” Even so, he concludes that Vogel is lying about the assurances from the federal officials. He doesn’t use the word lie but he might as well have.

Following the news conference of Feb. 24, Homeland Security official James Schwab issued a statement saying his office had made it clear to Santa Cruz police that any undocumented residents encountered during the raid would be detained in order to be identified. (See Schwab’s entire statement below) Santa Cruz police say that’s absolutely correct. What’s in dispute is what the feds said would or would not happen next.

Flippo, Vogel’s chief deputy, said when the issue first arose and again Monday that federal officials agreed repeatedly before and during the raid that any of the people being detained would not be taken into custody or cited on immigration charges. Despite those assurances, about 10 people were arrested or cited on immigration charges and are being processed for deportation, said Flippo (no relation to Monterey County DA Dean Flippo).

“We asked if they would be (processed for immigration violations),” Flippo told the Partisan on Monday. “They said no, absolutely not.”

The situation has been a political nightmare for Santa Cruz police, who came under heavy community criticism when word of the immigration arrests spread. Heston has made things worse by asserting that they have not accurately described the understanding with the feds.

Joseph Heston

Like much of the immigration debate, the issue of sanctuary cities isn’t simple. When a local police department can and should cooperate with immigration officials is a hotly debated topic. The Salinas City Council is taking up the subject again Tuesday. But it is a settled question in Santa Cruz, where the City Council has made it extremely clear that the Police Department will not function as an adjunct of Homeland Security. Santa Cruz officials believe, as do many officials throughout the country, that law enforcement can operate more effectively if undocumented residents don’t live in fear that even casual contact with police could result in deportation.

Heston may simply have accepted the statement from Homeland Security at face value or maybe he  just gave too little thought to the meaning of “detained.” It refers to being taken into custody very briefly without the specter of criminal prosecution. There is no reason to think he is trying to undercut Vogel and his officers or to add unnecessarily to the natural tensions between law enforcement and portions of the community. He probably just didn’t think it through and didn’t bother to talk to the police before spouting off. Bottom line, if he has evidence that Vogel is lying, he should trot it out. If not, he should do another editorial setting the record straight.

Statement from James Schwab of Homeland Security:

On Feb. 13, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) led a multi-agency operation involving the execution of federal search and arrest warrants at 11 locations as part of an ongoing criminal investigation targeting alleged criminal activity by suspected members of a notorious transnational gang. The operation was the culmination of a 5-year investigation which resulted in the arrest of 10 criminal organization members on federal criminal charges in Santa Cruz, Daly City, and Watsonville. Additionally, during the enforcement action, authorities encountered 11 illegal aliens at the operational locations who were detained initially on administrative immigration violations due to their association with suspected members of a transnational street gang. Ultimately, 10 of those individuals were released. One remains in agency custody at this time due to his criminal history and possible ties to the ongoing investigation. At no time during the operation were minors were left unattended at any of the enforcement locations.”

“Several days prior to the operation, our Special Agent-in-Charge office notified the Santa Cruz Chief of Police that any non-targeted foreign nationals encountered during the enforcement actions at the search and arrest locations would be held briefly until determinations could be made about their identities and case histories. The Chief acknowledged this possibility and it was agreed that no foreign nationals would enter the Santa Cruz Police Department’s facility or their police vehicles.”

“We worked closely with the Santa Cruz Police Department over the last five years on this case. Allegations that the agency secretly planned an immigration enforcement action in hopes there would be new political leadership that would allow for an alleged “secret” operation to take place are completely false, reckless, and disturbing.”

“‘Ryan L. Spradlin, the Special Agent-in-Charge in San Francisco, has stated that “it’s unfortunate when politics get intertwined with a well planned and executed public safety operation. When politics undermine law and order, the only winners are the criminals.” Spradlin publicly reiterated that he understands the concerns of community members and the sensitive nature of the operation, but that it’s a sad day for the law enforcement community when some continue to make statements because they are worried about their jobs, while our special agents remain focused on doing theirs.”

“‘I told the Deputy Chief that rather than disparaging this operation, the community of Santa Cruz should understand that they are safer because of it,’” said Spradlin. 

“Law enforcement operations are fluid, and unforeseen circumstances often arise that must be assessed and addressed on site. The goal of this operation was to arrest known members of a violent criminal organization and disrupt the dangerous activities of this organization. All of the arrests were conducted in accordance with agency policies and consistent with the special agents’ authorities under federal law.”

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • lia March 6, 2017, 9:18 pm

    Heston and his often goofy talks are why I don’t watch KSBW.

  • Jeanne Turner March 6, 2017, 9:28 pm

    Once in a while Heston gets it right, which can be confusing to some of us!

    • Jeanne Turner March 6, 2017, 10:29 pm

      I did NOT mean that Heston got this right, but he did make an editorial comment within the last year
      that was right on – within the past month or so, in fact. It’s kind of like getting used to the Herald taking the wrong position on local initiatives all the time and then suddenly coming out on the side of residents instead of corporations. If that should ever happen it would cause one to do a double-take.

      • Royal Calkins March 6, 2017, 11:02 pm

        You must be thinking of the time he criticized Cal Am for another outrageous rate increase. I think i wrote about how “even KSBW” seems the wrongness in this one.

  • Judy Karas March 6, 2017, 9:37 pm

    Royal–You should be writing the Herald editorials. Your subject material is timely and of importance. The Herald frequently chooses to editorialize about the most lackluster, trivial subjects, choosing non-controversial subject matter when there are so many urgent issues to cover.

  • Lloyd Jones March 7, 2017, 9:40 pm

    I have been assured that Monterey Regional Waste Management will accept television sets for salvage recycle. If any readers wish to stand in the face of Aldous Huxley’s predictions regarding addiction to perpetual amusement machines,this is an opportunity to clean up the living room.

  • bill leone March 10, 2017, 9:38 am

    Yes, after watching Heston Do His Thing for years, I’ve concluded he is on the wrong side of the issue he is talking about 99% of the time.

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