The Tucson Police Department’s decision not to continue searching for a suspect who escaped from Border Patrol agents is being criticized as a political move.
TPD refused to further assist in the Friday night pursuit of a “fleeing felon” due to the political climate, the president of National Border Patrol Council said Saturday. However, TPD officials said the department pulled out of the search after being unable to find the suspect in the specified area and that staff was needed to address other calls.
Carlos Erazo-Velasquez, 37, from Honduras, escaped from agents at Banner-University Medical Center Tucson, after previously attempting to evade arrest and assaulting a Border Patrol Agent.
Tucson police received a call regarding from Border Patrol shortly after 5 p.m. Friday, apprising them of the situation, said Sgt. Kimberly Bay, a TPD spokeswoman.
A man matching the suspect’s description was spotted in the area of North First Avenue and West Elm Street, and TPD officers immediately responded to help find the suspect, as they would in any situation where a law enforcement agency asks for help, said Bay.
Seventeen officers, including three K9 officers and the TPD air unit, helped in the search for more than two hours, she said.
As the evening progressed, protesters heard about the search and came to the the hospital and believed that Erazo-Velasquez was being pursued for illegal entry into the country, Art Del Cueto, president of the National Border Patrol Council, told the Star Saturday.
“This (the search) had nothing to do with immigration.” he said. “This wasn’t an illegal immigrant loose in the desert, he was in the city and near the university.”
The protesters blocked a Border Patrol vehicle, Del Cueto said. Agents moved their command center to the TPD west-side substation parking lot on Miracle Mile, roughly four miles away, after protesters arrived at the hospital.
Later Friday night TPD told Border Patrol agents they could no longer help, Del Cueto said.
And TPD management asked agents to leave the substation, saying they’d received a number of calls for service that they needed to respond to, Del Cueto said.
“With border patrol agents and vehicles searching the alleys and streets, I understand why citizens were calling in,” Del Cueto said. “But my concern is that if this man attacked a federal agent with a gun, what would he do to an average citizen he encountered in the streets?”
Del Cueto said that agents were told that TPD couldn’t assist because of the current political climate.
TPD said the actions were about resources, not politics.
“TPD officers determined, based on their experience of conducting thousands of urban area searches, that the subject was most likely not within the contained area and further searching was futile,” Bay said.
“Given the time of night, busy call volume, and a lack of the staff necessary to manage a demonstration at the substation, we were unable to accommodate this request and asked USBP to relocate to their own facility,” Bay said.
TPD’s current policy is to provide assistance as needed or requested and if the staffing level allows “based on the totality of the circumstances of the situation or incident, Bay said.
Contact reporter Caitlin Schmidt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4191. Twitter: @caitlinschmidt
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