Friday, May 12, 2006

Communication with offenders a top problem

Herald Staff Writer

The effect of illegal immigrants from Mexico has created its share of problems for local law enforcement agencies, according to Sapulpa police.

However, the biggest problem is not major infractions of the law; it’s communication between the offender and police.

“Right now, and it’s not just in law enforcement, an English speaking person competent in speaking Spanish can write his own ticket,” said Police Capt. Jeff Gilliland.

He said the department is constantly looking for new officers with bilingual skills.

Under normal conditions, the department has relied on community volunteers to assist officers, but Gilliland said at the present time the department is in urgent need of more Spanish-speaking citizens to aid police.

“We have a list (of volunteers), but often times we just hate to wake them up in the early morning hours,” he said.

Most volunteers have their own job, and it is difficult for them to spend several hours at the department and then go to work later in the morning.

Patrol Sgt. Roger Norris said police contact with Mexican national centers around traffic violations for the most part.

“None of them have valid driver’s licenses, and we have to arrest them,” Norris said. And that’s where the work begins.

Gilliland said field interviews by patrol officers and the routine questioning of jail personnel during processing also suffers from the lack of Spanish-speaking interpreters.

While traffic infractions provide a majority of contacts with illegal immigrants, Sapulpa police officers have been forced to deal with a variety of crimes, including first-degree murder. Ramiro J. Rodriguez, 23, who said he entered the United States illegally, was arrested by police last year on charges he killed his 9-month-old son in a fit of rage.

The problem of communications does not stop at the police station. In processing minor infractions, Sapulpa municipal jail and municipal court workers say the defendants are usually out of jail within a few hours of their arrest.

“They all are given the opportunity to contact the Mexican Council. That’s the law,” said Robin Quinnelly, chief dispatcher with the Sapulpa Police Department.

Those whose offenses take the Mexican nationals into the judicial system are handled in a variety of ways depending upon the severity of the crime.

In municipal court, Sapulpa court workers say they advise the defendants to bring an interpreter with them when they come to court.

In district court, offenders accused of felony crimes are entitled to court appointed attorneys and court certified interpreters.

However, municipal authorities say their encounters with illegal immigrants center around traffic violations, and in most cases the offenders are booked in and booked out of jail in a short period of time.

Quinnelly said usually illegal immigrants make a phone call to a friend or a relative who comes to the municipal jail with cash to bail them out.

In April, police arrested Diana Medrano, 22, of Tulsa, who could not speak a word of English, Quinnelly said. Medrano was booked in at 9:42 a.m. April 24 and was released at 11:49 the same morning after her father ponied up $761 cash for her release.

Another unusual instance occurred on April 21 when two women were arrested at Wal-Mart after store security caught them attempting to leave without paying for $332 in baby formula.

The women told Patrolman Mark Swafford through an interpreter they had been in the United States only 15 days.

Swafford said Tania Bustamante, 22, and Arellano Gonzales told police they intended to ship the baby formula back to Mexico. Both were charged with shoplifting, which carried a $244 fine for each of them.

Records indicated both Gonzales and Bustamante were booked into the municipal jail at 11:33 a.m. and released at 6:37 p.m. the same day after a friend put up the $488 in cash.

Quinnelly said these cases are good examples of the majority of encounters between Sapulpa police and illegal immigrants.

Judge declares mistrial over issue of interpreter

GUELPH (May 12, 2006)

A mistrial was declared yesterday in the case of a Guelph man accused of waving a machete at two men.

Justice Robert Robertson said a Polish interpreter should have been used during the entire trial for 47-year-old Andrew Serafin.

The Polish-speaking accused, who was charged with possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose and assault with a weapon, insisted at the beginning of the trial that he only needed the interpreter on standby if he required his services.

However, during Serafin's testimony, Robertson determined Serafin occasionally relied on the interpreter to suggest words when he was at a loss.

Court heard on Sept. 24, 2005 a bicyclist stopped at a red light on Norwich and Woolwich streets beside a vehicle that had its windows rolled down and music blaring.

The cyclist pulled out a machete from a satchel and waved the knife at the two men inside the vehicle, yelling about the volume of the music, assistant Crown attorney Pamela Borghesan said.

When the light turned green, the cyclist rode away and the men drove after him, court heard.

They caught the cyclist, held him down as they pulled the machete from him and called the police, court heard.

Serafin is return to court on July 31 to set a new trial date.