A Tacoma lawmaker wants to know why the Washington State Patrol is reviewing the actions of a trooper who called federal immigration authorities about a man living in the country illegally.
State Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Tacoma, sent a letter to Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday “to express serious concerns” that an administrative review is underway after a trooper contacted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement about a man involved a Feb. 9 traffic accident on Interstate 5 in Tacoma.
The man, Armando Chavez Corona, was convicted of a felony drug charge and was deported four times from the United States between 1996 and 2000, ICE officials said.
Chavez Corona didn’t cause the crash on I-5. But when a trooper completed a routine check of Chavez Corona’s driver’s license, a warning popped up from ICE, saying Chavez Corona was a previously deported felon and to contact the federal agency for confirmation, said State Patrol spokesman Kyle Moore.
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After the trooper contacted federal officials to confirm details of the warning, federal immigration officials came to the crash scene and took Chavez Corona into custody.
As of Wednesday, he was awaiting deportation, ICE officials said.
The State Patrol is reviewing whether the trooper followed an internal policy that limits how much troopers can do to help federal immigration officials.
In his letter Friday, O’Ban called the review into the trooper’s actions “puzzling, if not deeply concerning.”
“I fear launching an administrative review of this routine and common-sense procedure sends a chilling message to WSP troopers and to other law enforcement personnel that undermines public safety by discouraging officers from gaining potentially vital information from federal authorities,” O’Ban wrote.
Moore said administrative reviews are commonplace at the State Patrol. The trooper involved hasn’t been placed on leave or disciplined in any way, he said.
“This is just a routine review of whether this trooper followed our policies,” Moore said Friday.
According to the agency, “The Washington State Patrol has a policy to not stop, detain or interrogate or place an immigration hold on any person solely for the purpose of ascertaining immigration status or in any other way attempt to enforce federal immigration laws.”
Moore said troopers never arrested Chavez Corona or detained him for longer than it took to clear the scene of the accident. The information the trooper received about Chavez Corona did not constitute a warrant calling for his arrest, Moore added.
The governor’s office confirmed it had received O’Ban’s letter but declined to comment on it.
The letter concludes by asking Inslee whether he ordered the review and what specific circumstances warranted that scrutiny. It also asks the governor if it is appropriate for law enforcement officers to ignore a warrant from federal authorities, and “how does that contribute to the public safety or safety of officers?”
In a phone interview Friday, O’Ban said he worries the governor’s office is seizing upon immigration-related incidents in the state to make a political statement. In recent weeks, Inslee has been a vocal critic of the immigration policies promoted by Republican President Donald Trump.
“I’m concerned that this investigation is motivated at least in part by the governor nationalizing this issue, when it shouldn’t be,” O’Ban said.
Meanwhile, Grace Chavez, the U.S.-born wife of Chavez Corona, said she is considering legal action against the State Patrol.
Reached by phone Friday, she said she was heading to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma to visit her husband. The couple has three children, all of whom are U.S. citizens, she said.
“They violated our rights,” Grace Chavez said. “He was the victim of the accident.”
She said she is waiting to hear more details about when her husband is scheduled for deportation.
“I’m hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst,” she said.