The Prince George's County Department of Corrections is defending itself after federal immigration agents blamed it for releasing two suspected gang members last year, giving them the opportunity to kill a 14-year-old girl in April.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says Josue Fuentes-Ponce, 16, and Joel Escobar, 17, were in the country illegally when they were arrested May 11, 2018, on several charges, including attempted first-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder and participation in gang activity, ICE said. They were released on an unknown date despite an ICE detainer, according to ICE.
But after working their way through the justice system, a judge said it was against the law to do anything other than release them.
“It's basically a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution to hold someone without due process and a warrant,” Prince George's County Department of Corrections Director Mary Lou McDonough said.
She said ICE detainment requests are civil requests and not actual warrants.
“On warrants, we'll hold you as long as we can, and that's what we've told ICE in the past,” she said. “If they really want somebody, get us a warrant and we'll hold them for them.”
Escobar had been held by Prince George's County, while Ponce was held at a juvenile facility that says it did not receive a detainer to hold him.
Ponce, Escobar and 14-year-old Cynthia Hernandez-Nucamendi were arrested last week and charged with first-degree murder and related charges in the death of 14-year-old Ariana Funes-Diaz, of Adelphi, whose body was found May 15 in a creek in the 6300 block of 64th Avenue in Riverdale.
The suspects were fearful Funes-Diaz would go to the police about a robbery all four of them allegedly committed in D.C. on April 17, police said.
A fourth unidentified suspect was also involved, police said.
Fuentes-Ponce, of Bladensburg, and Escobar, of Northeast D.C., are members of MS-13.
ICE officers are again seeking to take custody of Fuentes-Ponce and Escobar pending the outcome of their cases.
“As law enforcement officers, we must continue to serve and protect the American public and act in the interest of public safety first,” Baltimore Field Office Director Diane Witte said in a news release. “These individuals had demonstrated violent criminal behavior before, and because they were released in spite of the lawful detainer, they were afforded an opportunity to take a life.”
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Fuentes-Ponce came to the U.S. in 2015 with family, ICE said. A judge ordered him removed in 2017, but he remained in the country.
Immigration officials found Escobar to be in the country unlawfully in 2016, ICE said. He was later released to a relative in the D.C. area.