ICE: Santa Barbara Officials Failed to Notify Before Release of Murder Suspect

The murder of a 64-year-old Santa Maria woman by two individuals—one of whom was in the country illegally—has once again highlighted a lack of cooperation between some local governments and federal immigration officials.

ICE officials say they requested notification prior to Victor Aureliano Martinez Ramirez’s release from the Santa Barbara County jail, where he had been detained following a 2014 arrest for rape and attempted murder charges. That notification was never received, however, and on July 24 the recently-released Ramirez and another individual broke into the home of Marilyn Pharis, raped her, and beat her savagely with a hammer.

"Available records indicate that Mr. Martinez (Ramirez) was released by local authorities a week later without ICE receiving the requested notification," ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said in a statement.

The quick release came after Ramirez’s charges were downgraded to misdemeanor battery, with the individual being sentenced to probation. According to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, once the charges were downgraded, the department could no longer hold Ramirez without a federal court order. Sheriff’s Department Lt. Craig Bonner also cited a 2014 federal court ruling which held that detaining a person solely on an ICE request could constitute a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights.

Records show that Ramirez was arrested 6 times over the past 15 months. Still, ICE officials declined to issue an immigration detainer, which would have led to his deportation.

The murder of Marilyn Pharis comes just weeks after the high-profile death of 32-year-old Katherine Steinle in San Francisco. Immigration officials did request an immigration hold for her alleged attacker, Francisco Sanchez, but he was protected by so-called “sanctuary city” policies.

Read more about the questions surrounding Marilyn Pharis’ murder here.

Image Credit: Flickr User keithallison, via (CC BY-SA 2.0)