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San Antonio Police Chief impedes human smuggling case after releasing migrant witnesses

January 7, 2018  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
San Antonio Police Chief impedes human smuggling case after releasing migrant witnesses

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San Antonio Police Chief William McManus admitted to reporters on Friday that he released 12 undocumented migrant witnesses in a human smuggling case who were smuggled in the back of a tractor-trailer.

He did so without permitting the federal government to vet them for criminal or immigration records and yet chose to charge the driver under the state’s human smuggling statutes, despite releasing the witnesses to the crime.

“Once the folks got to police headquarters we have no jurisdiction to hold or detain them, so they were released to Catholic Charities, and what Catholic Charities did with them I don’t know,” McManus told the press.

Police officers were dispatched after receiving a call on December 23rd regarding a dubious tractor-trailer. When authorities arrived, they saw people getting out of the back. The first cop on the scene contacted Homeland Security. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) assigned agents to go to the scene. The agents were informed that the chief had chosen to refer the case to the local DA instead of federal officials.

“It could have gone federal, it could have gone state,” McManus said during a news conference. “Because we had 12 people sitting on the corner, we had all of our officers waiting to see how we were going to handle this; I made the call to handle it at the state level.”

Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood told the press that this was very unusual.

“Since I have been the DA, they have not turned a case over, a case of transport smuggling to us in the three years that I have been the DA,” LaHood said to ABC12.

The DA now has to prosecute a case where the witnesses have all been released and have since fled. “Prosecuting this case will be challenging if the witnesses can’t be found,” LaHood added.

If federal investigators were involved, the migrants could have been given protection from deportation as witnesses to a federal human smuggling crime, according to Fox News San Antonio.

The Archdiocese of San Antonio and Catholic Charities told the Express-News that they “assisted individuals with food, clothing and providing hotel rooms.” The groups verified that all seven individuals left the city by Christmas Day.

Prosecutors in San Antonio charged 58-year-old Herbert Alan Nichols, of Houston, with the Trafficking of Persons statute. Because one of the individuals being smuggled was a minor, Nichols could face up to 20 years behind bars if he is found guilty.

The president of the union that represents San Antonio officers, Mike Helle, said: “This case should have been handled by Homeland. They should be handling human smuggling cases. Somehow McManus gets ahold of this, interjects himself, and starts calling Catholic Charities and all the people he can get ahold of to get rid of all these illegals before the feds get there.”

Helle said police at headquarters were told not to check the witnesses’ names against federal and state databases. He said this is a breach of standard procedure. Because of this order, police had no way to determine any of those being smuggled had criminal histories or warrants.

“The guys that were not in the room could not believe it. If anyone of our guys did this, they’d probably be put on administrative duty and terminated from the Department,” Helle added.

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