Boulder DA decries deportation of suspect as ICE uses case to attack sanctuary cities

Longmont man accused of sexual assault on a child deported back to Mexico prior to case resolving

Jose Alejandro Lopez Gutierrez

The recent deportation of a Longmont sex assault suspect has raised some tensions between federal and local agencies, as the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office is left unable to prosecute a serious case while Immigration and Customs Enforcement used the incident to attack sanctuary cities.

Jose Alejandro Lopez Gutierrez, 56, had been charged with sexual assault on a child under the age of 15 by a person in a position of trust with a pattern of abuse in May after police said he sexually assaulted a preteen girl.

Gutierrez was released on $20,000 bond, and at a preliminary hearing on Sept. 12, a judge found there was enough evidence for the case against Gutierrez to continue to district court, and set an arraignment for Nov. 1.

But on Sept. 23, ICE detained Gutierrez and by Sept. 30 had deported him. Then, Acting Director of ICE Matthew Albence at a White House press briefing on Sept. 26 directly brought up the case while criticizing sanctuary cities and jails that fail to honor ICE detainers.

“People are being hurt and victimized every day because of jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate with ICE,” Albence said. “As law enforcement professionals, it is frustrating to see senseless acts of violence and other criminal activity happen in our communities, knowing full well that ICE could’ve prevented them with just a little cooperation.”

Albence continued, “For example, in Boulder County, Colorado, our officers found and arrested a 56-year-old illegal alien who had previously been released from the local jail after his arrest for felony sexual assault on a child. We had lodged a detainer with the Boulder County jail, but it was ignored. And he’s again out on the streets, until yesterday.”

Boulder District Attorney Michael Dougherty said he was “shocked” to see the case called out in a White House press briefing.

“It seems as though his comments are a direct attack on Boulder, and contrary to his opinion, the actions of ICE here actually jeopardized public safety, because we lost the opportunity to prosecute someone for sexual assault on a child,” Dougherty said.

Dougherty said ICE did not tell his office it would be detaining or deporting Gutierrez, and prosecutors only found out on Oct. 9, more than a week after he was deported to Mexico.

“The District Attorney’s Office learned after the fact that this defendant had been deported by ICE, and as a result the case is going to be delayed years, if not indefinitely,” Dougherty said. “It has a direct and negative impact on our ability to prove a case against him. If public safety was truly their priority, they never would have deported him while the case is pending.”

Dougherty pointed out that, while the $20,000 bond was less than the $50,000 prosecutors asked for, Gutierrez did not miss a court date until he was detained.

“If they had allowed us to finish prosecuting him, he could have been convicted, would have been sentenced to state prison, and would have had to register as a sex offender,” Dougherty said. “Instead, none of those things happen.”

Matthew Jonas / Staff Photographer
Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty

Prosecutors filed a motion asking a judge to revoke Gutierrez’s bond should he ever return to the states so the case can continue. But in the meantime, because the suspect has no other convictions, he is not in custody in Mexico nor does he have to register with any agency, meaning there is no way to keep his named victim updated on his whereabouts.

“This action denies justice for the victim,” Dougherty said. “We always encourage victims of sexual assault to come forward and report. We want to secure the right outcome for them, and by ICE interrupting this case, we were denied that opportunity to fight for justice and for the rights of this victim.”

Nancy Lewis, the executive director of the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance, said a deportation at this stage in the proceedings undermines victims.

“It’s like being victimized all over again,” Lewis said. “There are probably some crime victims for whom deportation is the optimum answer. But nobody asked this crime victim what she wanted. One more time, her life is out of her control because ICE decided it wanted to deport him.”

In addition, Lewis reiterated the nature of deportation means a certain level of uncertainty for victims, especially in cases where the defendant has not been prosecuted and does not need to register as a sex offender.

“To have this person just disappear and have no way to know where they are or know if they will return is very difficult,” Lewis said. “There is no safety in that, no safety at all. You have this victim who is always wondering about their safety, because the justice system didn’t get to work.”

In calling out several states and cities, including Boulder and Denver, Albence said sanctuary cities and jails that don’t cooperate with ICE were hindering the agency’s ability to prevent crime.

“You may be the first we’re calling out, but you won’t be the last,” Albence said. “This needs to stop. Work with us. Find a way that we can jointly prevent murderers, pedophiles, rapists, drug dealers, and domestic abusers from being released back into our communities. It’s plain and simple.”

The Boulder County Jail does not honor ICE detainers, as Sheriff Joe Pelle has previously stated he does not believe he legally has the right to do so.

Dougherty said he sides with Pelle on the interpretation of the law, but said the detainment itself is not necessarily the issue in this particular case.

“I agree with the sheriff’s analysis, but make no mistake: If ICE had just picked up the defendant, this would be a different story,” Dougherty said. “They actually deported him while the case was pending. The failure here was not between ICE and the sheriff. It was ICE deporting him.”

But rather than reach out to prosecutors to possibly work out an agreement, Dougherty said ICE never contacted his office.

“The prosecution should be allowed to finish the criminal case and the sentence should be served before someone is subject to deportation,” Dougherty said. “Instead, we have the acting director of ICE talking about this as if it is a great success for public safety, when in my mind it is actually a failure.”

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