Federal immigration agents detained a man at the Clatsop County Courthouse in Astoria on Thursday after spraying people who were trying to escort him away.

Fabian Alberto Zamora-Rodriguez appeared in Circuit Court for a hearing related to felony charges that he encouraged child sexual abuse. Aware U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were outside the second-floor courtroom, immigrant rights’ advocates and the man’s mother and partner tightly surrounded him as he tried to leave.

ICE detention

Immigration agents took a man into custody at the Clatsop County Courthouse on Thursday.

A video of the encounter, shared with The Astorian by a bystander, Maria Senaida Perez, shows immigration agents confronting the people in the hallway and releasing what appears to be pepper spray before grabbing Zamora-Rodriguez and taking him into custody.

Tanya Roman, a spokeswoman for ICE, said she was unable to comment on Zamora-Rodriguez’s immigration status or the legal reason for his detention due to privacy concerns.

“It is actually often due to the implementation of unreasonable ‘sanctuary city’ policies that prevent ICE from being notified of the presence of criminal aliens in jails or prisons, which then necessitates that we utilize options like enforcement actions at courthouses to accomplish our law enforcement mission,” she said in an email.

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has every legal right to carry out its mission on courthouse grounds if the circumstances of an enforcement action require it.”

Sheriff Tom Bergin said he was notified by ICE before the immigration agents took local action.

“We need to start supporting ICE in their efforts of when people are here illegally,” the sheriff said. “This isn’t a game. These people are here illegally and if ICE has a detainer for them or a warrant then they need to abide by the laws in the state and the United States of America. I’m sorry, that’s how it is. That’s how it should be.”

Bergin said the people who surrounded Zamora-Rodriguez were interfering.

“I’m sorry, but if they have a warrant and the guy needs to go into custody, then he needs to go into custody,” the sheriff said. “But when these protesters or whatever they were, these people that wanted to make sure he didn’t go to jail surrounded him, they’re interfering with a police officer.”

Shaken

Hours afterward, Andrea Gonzalez, a program coordinator with the Lower Columbia Hispanic Council, she said was still shaken by the physical nature of the encounter and that it took place inside the courthouse.

“People don’t have rights all of a sudden?” said Gonzalez, who was sprayed. “I don’t know. It just feels ... it feels wrong.”

Courthouse

The Clatsop County Courthouse in Astoria.

Under Oregon’s sanctuary law, sheriff’s deputies and others in state and local law enforcement are prohibited from enforcing federal immigration law if the suspect’s only crime is being in the country illegally. Last year, Bergin wrote a letter signed by 15 other county sheriffs supporting a ballot measure that would have repealed the sanctuary law. Voters rejected the measure in November.

The video shows sheriff’s deputies in the hallway at the courthouse on Thursday, but they did not appear to participate in or seek to stop the detention.

“I’m not surprised. Tom Bergin is the sheriff and I know his stance,” Gonzalez said. “And I’m not saying all sheriffs are bad. But I mean clearly they are cooperating with them and they were what, OK with people who are just trying to escort someone out being hurt by these officials? People from their community? That’s disturbing to me for sure.”

Judge Paula Brownhill, the presiding judge of the Circuit Court, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Earlier this year, after a man was detained by ICE outside the courthouse in December, the judge echoed complaints from many judges and civil liberties’ advocates nationally. “Not only criminal defendants, but civil litigants, crime victims, and witnesses may be reluctant to come to court for fear of encountering ICE,” she said.

District Attorney Ron Brown said ICE’s local action was legal. He said that people inside the courthouse could detect the pepper spray hours after it was released.

“It’s not something we like to see at all, but it does happen,” Brown said.

Roman, the ICE spokeswoman, said civil immigration enforcement actions taken inside courthouses can reduce safety risks to the public. “Arrests that take place inside courthouses are undertaken in coordination with courthouse security leadership with the same level of professionalism and respect that ICE officers and agents are committed to practicing every day,” she said.

“ICE does not make civil immigration arrests inside courthouses indiscriminately. As with all other federal agency planned enforcement actions, ICE arrests at courthouses are the result of targeted enforcement actions against specific, targeted aliens.”

Roman said, in years past, “most of these individuals would have been turned over to ICE by local authorities upon their release from jail based on ICE detainers. Now that some cities do not honor ICE detainers, these individuals, who often have significant criminal histories, are released onto the street, presenting a potential public safety threat.”

Online activity

Zamora-Rodriguez was arrested in February after the sheriff’s office said he showed up at a local park for what he believed was going to be a sexual rendezvous with an 11-year-old boy. Online, deputies had been posing as the boy and the boy’s 40-year-old babysitter.

He has pleaded not guilty to encouraging child sexual abuse and other felony charges. At the hearing Thursday, a case management hearing was set for October.

Nicole Bales is a reporter for The Astorian, covering police, courts and county government. Contact her at 971-704-1724 or nbales@dailyastorian.com.

(7) comments

Mortimor Schneel

This is sad, this man just came here illegally to start a new life and enjoy the bounties of America. Hopefully a Democrat will be elected in 2020 so we can open the borders for hard working men like this to sweep into the country and transform it back to the land of the free.

Michael Chattick

Obviously the Sheriff has forgotten the historical reason as to why the Americans insisted upon they be elected by the people, they are supposed to be last bastion between between the people and the overreach of local state and Federal powers. What is ICE? ICE is a Federal Police Force that has Jurisdiction over 100 miles inland from all,"all" US borders, and they operate under D.C. Admiralty, not Constitutional authority. Their powers of arrest, search and seizure over rules any civil legal systems, they can and do disapear, deport or incarcerate people without trial. In effect a seperate military force granted those same powers as if acting no differently than do our military occupiers in foreign nations, within their 100 miles inland of borders. That they can walk into a Courthouse that is supposedly in the process of trying to arrest and convict a state criminal violation, snatch the accused , where is our Justice, our local need for Justice and needs to control pedophilia and child sex exploitation? Not a believer in way activist pushed by lies and deceit sanctuary "laws and Regulations" over powering long standing civil courts and police force powers, but when Federal Police interfere in a case being handled by our loal courts, under their legal system, warrants arrest court dates set, supposedly under our police and and elected Sheriffs jurisdiction, why have Judicial system, just have a Military Tribunals. Admittedly US is not any longer a Constitutionaly governed , as it was written, nation , but darn, at least we should squeal if even just a little under our new police state policies. If we live within 100 mile border we no longer need elected Sheriffs, just let Feds appoint them and make them Officers of ICE.

michael watkins

I love it when liberals have no clue what they are talking about and you are one of those. First you are so wrong, Border Patrol is part of Customs & Border Protection (CBP), they are the one's responsible for the border and up to 100 miles inland from a border. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) has two agencies under it's umbrella (HSI and ERO), ICE is a totally different agency with some varying authority and has nationwide arrest authority. But surffice it to say your comments are way of base. the sheriffs knew it was ICE/ERO (a law enforcement agency), ICE has arrest authority just as a deputy sheriff does but for different laws. ICE was effecting it's arrest authority and the Deputy sheriffs have no authority to get involved. There are many immigration agencies (CBP and ICE), both have the authority to arrest and detain non-citizens living illegally in the United States. INA § 287(a)(2), grants arrest authority without a warrant to Immigration officials if they have "reason to believe that the alien ... is in the United States in violation of any [immigration] law or regulation and is likely to escape before a warrant can be obtained for his arrest."

Kiara Johnstone

Obslviously the people who stood to prevent this man from being detained by ICE are not educated and can't read. If being here illegally is their only crime they will not be detained. They are protecting child predators now? This man is not the victim. Thank you ICE for protecting children from this monster.

Slappy McFerrin

The defenders of this aspiring pedophile and child rapist think they're on the side of virtue? That does it. Stop the train. I'm getting off.

Nate Williams

🤔 Presumption of innocence?! He was not convicted or does he not get a fair trial first? I served this country so that all humans inside it can be afforded the same fair and equal rights.

michael watkins

he is presumed innocent and as such will be given his due process in an immigration court, you are making a comment that does not have all the facts, this story leaves alot out. There could be numerous things that ICE/ERO arrested him for; 1. illegal alien only 2. illegal alien with previous removal 3. illegal alien with prior convictions 4. LPR with convictions

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