State Senate Republicans ask for review of ‘sanctuary’ laws in Newman cop killing

State Senate Republicans are asking the Attorney General’s Office to determine whether local and state law enforcement agencies were prevented by California’s so-called “sanctuary state” laws from communicating with federal immigration officials in regards to the fatal shooting of Newman Police Corporal Ronil Singh.

Paulo Virgen Mendoza has been charged with murder in connection with Singh’s death. Mendoza is accused of shooting Singh during a Dec. 26 traffic stop in Newman when Mendoza allegedly was driving drunk. Mendoza is still identified in Stanislaus County jail records as Gustavo Perez Arriaga, an alias. But he’s referred to in court by his given name.

Mendoza entered the country illegally, according to authorities.

Senate Republican Leader Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel; Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Tehama, and Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, delivered a letter to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra last week, requesting his office to review the matter, according to a news release issued Thursday.

“Officer Singh, who used the legal immigration process to become a naturalized citizen, was murdered by someone who came into this country illegally and chose to align himself with criminal street gangs,” according to the letter.

The Republicans suggested in their letter that California’s sanctuary state laws applied complex restrictions for local and state law enforcement officials. They said in the letter that it’s unclear whether these laws impacted the events leading up to Singh’s death.

Senate Bill 54, also known as the state’s “sanctuary state” law prohibits police from targeting people based solely on their immigration status and limits what they can tell federal immigration authorities about people in their custody, The Sacramento Bee reported.

SB 54 builds on the Trust Act of 2013, which prevents police from detaining people at the request of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they would otherwise be released. Both laws contain exemptions for people charged with or suspected of serious or violent crimes.

A couple of days after the deadly shooting, then-Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said Mendoza had two DUI arrests in Madera County. Christianson also said Mendoza has gang ties.

Christianson, whose term in office ended last month, suggested the outcome could have been different if law enforcement wasn’t “restricted, prohibited or had their hands tied because of political interference.”

“This is a criminal illegal alien with prior criminal activity that should have been reported to ICE,” Christianson said. “We were prohibited, law enforcement was prohibited because of sanctuary laws and that led to the encounter with (Cpl.) Singh.”

The letter from the senate Republicans refers to Mendoza’s DUI arrests, and the state lawmakers wrote that Mendoza identified himself as a member of the Surenos street gang. They said that it’s clear that much confusion exists about the information Madera County law enforcement agencies could have shared with federal immigration officials.

Rosalio Ahumada writes news stories about criminal court cases in Stanislaus County for The Modesto Bee, issues related to immigration and immigrant communities and breaking news related to crime and public safety. From time to time, he covers the Modesto City Council meetings. He has worked as a news reporter in the Northern San Joaquin Valley since 2004.