Just a day after announcing the suspension of an officer for notifying immigration officials that a suspect driving without a driver’s license was also illegally residing in the country, the police chief of Fairfax County announced that he has reinstated the officer whom he had publicly lambasted the day before. The quick reversal follows national attention and a flood of complaints over the department’s suspension of the officer for attempting to uphold the country’s immigration laws.
On Tuesday, Fairfax County Police Chief Edward Roessler Jr. publicly upbraided one of his officers for contacting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) about a suspect pulled over for a routine traffic stop who ended up having not only no driver’s license but no legal status in the country. The officer’s actions were “unacceptable,” Roessler declared in a press release, and he had “damaged” the reputation of the department. After strong pushback, Roessler issued a statement just a day later with a very different tone.
“We have one of the best police forces in the U.S. and I have confidence that our officer will represent us well throughout his career,” said Roessler in a statement Wednesday announcing the officer’s reinstatement following a “procedural policy recommendation.”
The decision follows a flood of “offers of assistance and support for the officer,” as well as harsh criticism directed at Roessler for his handling of the incident, The Washington Times reports.
In a press release posted Tuesday on a September 21 traffic stop and subsequent ICE arrest, Chief Roessler presented the details of the incident as well as a strong condemnation of one of his own officers.
“On Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, at 2:46 p.m., a FCPD officer was handling a traffic accident at Harrison Lane at South Kings Highway in the Alexandria section of the county,” Roessler explained in the release. “The officer found that one driver did not have a Virginia Operator’s license and obtained the driver’s information to conduct a check to verify the DMV record. During the query of the driver’s information, the officer received notification from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE), that the driver was wanted by ICE for an administrative violation warrant on file for the failure to appear for a deportation hearing. The officer then contacted the ICE agent that was listed as the point of contact on the confirmation of the warrant. The ICE agent advised the officer that they were close by and responding to the location of the traffic crash. The FCPD officer then issued a uniform summons to the driver for not having an operator’s license. The driver signed the summons. However, the officer then decided to detain the driver through a custodial detention and turned over custody to the ICE agent.”
Roessler then underscored that the department policy is not to contact ICE about illegal immigrants in such situations, citing FCPD General Order 601-Arrest procedures (VIII c. 5. 3.):
If the response reads “OUTSTANDING ADMINISTRATIVE WARRANT OF REMOVAL” and the individual is not in custody or being taken into custody for any other violation of law, officers shall not confirm the hit through LESC and shall not take the individual into custody based solely upon the IVF hit. The majority of such administrative warrants represent civil violations of immigration law.
Roessler added that in their training they instruct their personnel “that we do not enforce nor detain for administrative warrants and we have no authority to enforce federal law.” As an additional nod to pro-immigration activists, Roessler added, “We have also been working closely with community members and advocates to review our General Orders in this regard.”
He then unloaded on the officer under his command, condemning the officer’s actions as “unacceptable” and making sure the public knows that he called for “an immediate internal investigation.”
“As a matter of full transparency to our community — our police officer violated our longstanding policy and deprived a person of their freedom, which is unacceptable,” wrote Roessler. “We have been informed by ICE that the driver was released after three hours and issued an ankle monitor. When I learned of this event, I directed an immediate internal investigation to look at all factors in this matter to ensure that all are held accountable for this violation.”
Roessler concluded by blaming the officer for supposedly “damag[ing]” the department’s “reputation.”
“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,” wrote the chief. “This matter damages our reputation and the longstanding policy that I have stated many times that our officers shall not act as immigration agents. The officer involved in this event has been relieved of all law enforcement duties pending the outcome of this investigation. It is my duty to enforce our FCPD – and Fairfax County – policies and hold all accountable for their actions.”