Fairfax Co. officer suspended after holding driver to be detained by ICE

A Fairfax County, Virginia, police officer has been suspended after they held a driver at an accident scene so the driver could be picked up by immigration officials.

Fairfax County police Chief Ed Roessler said in a statement Tuesday that the incident started with a traffic accident Sept. 21 at Harrison Lane and South Kings Highway in the Alexandria section.

When the officer responded and started to handle the accident, they found one of the drivers didn’t have a driver’s license. When the officer checked the driver’s information, it turned out that the driver was wanted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement for failing to appear for a deportation hearing, Roessler said.

The officer contacted the ICE agent listed on the warrant, who said they were nearby. The officer then gave the driver a summons for not having a license, held the driver through a “custodial detention,” then turned them over to the ICE agent.

Roessler said that since the driver was not being taken into custody for any violation of law, they should not have been turned over to ICE.

The officer has been “relieved of all law enforcement duties pending the outcome of this investigation,” Roessler said. He added that ICE told the police department that the driver was held for three hours and released with an ankle monitor.

In the statement, Roessler cited police arrest procedures, which state that the two possible immigration-related results that can come up on the kind of records search the officer performed are “Previously Deported Felon” and “Outstanding Administrative Warrant of Removal.”

In the latter instance, which was the case in the Sept. 21 incident, “and the individual is not in custody or being taken into custody for any other violation of law, officers shall not … take the individual into custody based solely upon the [Immigration Violators File] hit.”

The procedure says that most such administrative warrants “represent civil violations of immigration law.”

Roessler said in the statement that officers are taught in the academy that “we do not enforce nor detain for administrative warrants, and we have no authority to enforce federal law.”

He added, “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. This matter damages our reputation and the longstanding policy that I have stated many times that our officers shall not act as immigration agents.”

Neither the officer nor the driver have been identified.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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