Md. agencies released teen murder suspects despite ICE detainers

Not one, but two different agencies in Maryland released two teenagers from custody despite detainers from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The two teens — Josue Rafael Fuentes-Ponce, 16, and Joel Ernesto Escobar, 17 — are suspects in the MS-13-related killing of 14-year-old Ariana Funes-Diaz, of Anne Arundel County, whose body was found in Prince George’s County May 15.

The two had been arrested by the Prince George’s County police in May 2018 on charges of attempted murder and attempted robbery. They were transferred to a state-run youth detention center a few days after the 2018 arrest.

Escobar, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery, spent 10 months at the youth detention center and was taken back to the Prince George’s County jail on March 15 of this year, when he was released to a family member on the same day. A previous statement from the Prince George’s County Department of Corrections said that Escboar was not in county custody at the time of his release.

The Maryland Department of Juvenile Services released Fuentes-Ponce following the disposition of his case. The state declined to provide the date of his release because of his juvenile status.

Prince George’s County Department of Corrections said that it followed guidance from State Attorney General Brian Frosh in not informing ICE of Escobar’s release.

“The Department of Corrections follows the Guidance Memorandum of the Maryland Attorney General to not inform U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency of individuals being released with a detainer, which is a civil matter,” said Andrew Cephas, spokesman for the Prince George’s County Department of Corrections, in an email.

Frosh’s “Legal Guidance for Maryland State and Local Law Enforcement Officials,” issued in December 2018, says that “compliance with ICE detainers is voluntary.” Frosh’s memo also warns that “State and local law enforcement officials are potentially exposed to liability if they hold someone beyond his or her State-law release date without a judicial warrant or probable cause that the detainee has committed a crime.”

Frosh’s memo specified that “Federal law does not require any local government agency or law enforcement officer to communicate with federal immigration authorities.”

The state’s Department of Juvenile Services said it was aware of the detainer issued for Fuentes-Ponce at the time of his release.

“The Department of Juvenile Services did not directly receive a detainer from ICE regarding Josue Fuentes-Ponce. DJS is aware that while the youth was pending an adult case and in their custody, Prince George’s County Detention Center received an ICE detainer on May 11, 2018,” said Eric Solomon, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services.

ICE said that the federal agency was never informed of the teenagers’ transfer from county to state custody, and the transfer of one of the teens back to county custody for release.

“The issue at hand remains communication and cooperation. The agency welcomes partnership from law enforcement at every and all levels in the interest of our collective public safety,” said ICE spokesman Justine Whelan.

The office of Gov. Larry Hogan declined to comment on the county and state agencies’ handling of the detainers and Frosh’s guidance to law enforcement officers on federal immigration detainers.

Michelle Basch

Michelle Basch is a reporter and anchor at WTOP.

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