Police chief blames immigration policies in murder of Calif. woman

The police chief of Santa Maria, California has spoken out against state and federal immigration and crime policies as a direct cause of the assault and murder of 64-year-old Marilyn Pharis, who worked as a civilian contractor for the Air Force:

“I think it starts in Washington, D.C., with this administration that we see and their policies. I think you can draw a direct line over to Sacramento with the policies of, I’m going to say, this governor and the Legislature,” Santa Maria Police Chief Ralph Martin told reporters. “And I am not remiss to say that from Washington, D.C., to Sacramento, there’s a blood trail into the bedroom of Marilyn Pharis.”

Pharis was sleeping at her home just before 10 a.m. on July 24 when Victor Aureliano Martinez, 29, and Jose Fernando Villagomez, 20, allegedly broke into her home and assaulted her, Santa Maria police said in a news release.

The victim, who worked for the Air Force as a civilian contractor, called police and when officers arrived, dogs led them to a nearby home where they found Martinez, who had allegedly broken into the home in an attempt to evade police, the statement said. Martinez, who was in the country illegally, according to Martin, was arrested without incident and charged with attempted murder, sexual assault and residential burglary, it said.

Villagomez was arrested five days later — on a probation violation — and he was charged August 4 in the attack on Pharis, according to police.

Two weeks before he murdered Pharis, Martinez had been arrested for possession of meth. Yet, despite being in the country illegally, he was not turned over to federal authorities:

Martin said although Martinez — originally from the state of Durango, Mexico — was in the United States illegally and even though he’d been booked in Santa Barbara County at least four times since 2009, local police received no formal requests from federal immigration authorities.

The county first booked Martinez on November 19, 2009, for driving without a valid license. He was released 19 days later, police said.

He was picked up again on May 22, 2014, initially for felony drug and sexual assault charges, police said. The assault charge was later modified to misdemeanor battery. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement filed an “immigration detainer — notice of action,” but the sheriff’s office determined the request did not meet its “immigration detention requirements,” police said. Martinez posted bail and was released June 4.

And during the methamphetamine arrest Martin referenced, Martinez was arrested July 17 on charges of possessing drug paraphernalia and felony possession of a “concealed dirk or dagger.” The paraphernalia charge was dismissed, and Martinez pleaded no contest to the weapons charge and the 2014 drug charge.

Though the weapons charge earned him 30 days in jail, which would have begun October 31, Martinez was ordered released on July 20, five days before Pharis was attacked, police said. He was supposed to return to court August 24.

Villagomez was also arrested at least twice before Pharis’ murder. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office released a statement explaining that current state and federal laws are working against each other:

State law, the statement said, dictates when police can detain someone based on a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer request, while a federal court has ruled that placing someone in custody based only on an ICE detainer request may leave a local law enforcement outlet liable for violating that person’s constitutional rights.

“Based upon the constraints created by the above noted laws, it is the policy of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, that DHS/ICE must obtain a court order or arrest warrant signed by a Federal judge or magistrate, before we will continue to maintain custody of an individual who does not have local charges that require the individual to be held in our custody,” the statement said

It continued, “The impact of these two laws causes a significant legal and moral conflict for California Sheriffs when handling ICE immigration detainer requests. It is imperative that the Federal government work to remedy this conflict and provide clear guidance to California Sheriffs.”

How many murders must happen before Congress fixes this mess?