Hundreds of accused felons deported rather than prosecuted
By David Schechter and Mark Smith
The WFAA News (Dallas), November 6, 2009
Dallas — Hundreds of accused felons charged with murder, rape, assault and kidnapping have been deported from Dallas County without having to face criminal prosecution.
News 8 has found that the practice to allow charged felons to circumvent the justice system occurs not only in Dallas, but in major cities throughout Texas and the nation.
The accused are undocumented immigrants, many of which are Mexican Nationals, who bond out from jail and are transported by federal immigration buses to the border and then set free.
'Thats tragic and unacceptable,' said David Finn, a former Dallas County District Judge and former federal prosecutor. '… The left hand and the right hand are not on the same page and they're not communicating.'
Finn, along with other authorities, said the problem has been a long-standing 'black eye' on the U.S. criminal justice system.
Based on extensive interviews and research, News 8 found that federal, state and local law enforcement simply fail when it comes to cooperating to ensure accused felons go to trial.
From June through August, at least 20 Mexican citizens facing state felony charges in Dallas County were released to Mexico, according to a News 8 review.
One estimate by the Dallas County District Attorneys office indicates the number of deported felons may be staggering.
Since 1991, the research estimates that the following accused Dallas felons were set free:
* 128 accused murders
* 18 attempted murderers
* 409 child abuserrapists
* 54 rapists
One of the accused includes Jose Salvador Tinajero. He faced the possibility of life in prison for allegedly molesting his two step daughters, one of whom was only four years old. News 8 found that he was deported in August prior to trial.
The practice first came to light in mid-August. At the time, Jose Adan Rico faced the possibility of life in prison after he was charged with the violent rapes of two Dallas girls ages 12 and 14.
The girls told police that Rico, 34, entered unlocked doors to their respective apartments and bound their arms and covered their eyes with duct tape. Rico told one girl he had a gun and would kill her if she didnt quit screaming, one of the victims said.
Instead of going to trial, Rico posted bond and within hours was loaded onto a bus to be set free in Mexico.
At the time, Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins said he planned to meet with federal authorities. He said he hoped to come up with policies and procedures to ensure accused felons went to trial.
But, since Ricos release, Watkins has not had official high-level discussions to address the issue. He also declined to comment for this story.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials also have repeatedly declined comment. They said their agencies are ready to cooperate with Watkins office, if asked.
Others, however, have taken some action.
Dallas County District Judge Mike Snipes said he notified the U.S. Attorneys office last week about the problem. He asked for more information sharing between federal and local authorities about pending criminal charges.
'There are a lot of people down here who have access to that information,' he said. 'It doesn't have to be that complicated, I don't think.'
Ernesto Fierro, an investigator with Watkins office, said he was so troubled by the practice that he compiled estimates of accused Dallas area felons who were released. Fierro also has collaborated on a plan for a joint immigration task force of local and federal agents.
'Im furious,' he said. 'That's the whole reason I drew this up and wrote it on my own time. I didn't get paid or assigned to do this.'
The Dallas County District Attorneys office tabled the estimated $200,000 proposal due to budget and personnel cuts.
Fierro, however, continued on his own time to act on tips from a close friend who happens to be a federal ICE officer.
'Its not his job to do that,' Fierro said referring to tips he receives from the ICE agent about impending deportations. 'Its not my job to get that call and go do something about it.'
But that's exactly how Fierro got tipped off last week about Juan Antonio Morales, who was accused of the sexual assault of a child.
Fierro returned Morales to the Dallas County Jail only hours before his scheduled deportation to Mexico. He said he was relieved to know that Morales didnt join the hundreds of accused felons who have already taken bus rides to escape pending charges.