Christianson: ‘Why are we providing sanctuary for criminals, gang members?’

Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson strongly suggested Friday that California’s sanctuary laws are to blame in the slaying of a Newman police corporal who was shot two days earlier during a traffic stop.

Christianson identified the suspect in Cpl. Ronil Singh’s death at a Sheriff’s Department news conference as Gustavo Perez Arriaga, 32, whom the sheriff said entered the country illegally from Mexico and has been in this country for several years.

Christianson said the focus should be on Singh’s service and sacrifice. He immigrated legally to the United States from Fiji with the hope of becoming a police officer. However, some of what Christianson said focused on the state’s immigration policy.

Christianson said Arriaga has two DUI arrests in Madera County, and Singh had stopped him early Wednesday because he suspected Arriaga was driving under the influence. Christianson added Arriaga has gang ties.

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

“I’m suggesting that the outcome could have been different if law enforcement wasn’t restricted, prohibited or had their hands tied because of political interference.”

Christianson singled out Senate Bill 54, which was passed in 2017 and limits local law enforcement’s cooperation with federal immigration, though local authorities can report people convicted of some felonies to ICE.

“Why are we providing sanctuary for criminals, gang members?” the sheriff said. “It’s a conversation we need to have.”

In an interview after the news conference, Christianson also pointed to California’s TRUST Act of 2013 as tying the hands of law enforcement. The sheriff said in an email the act took effect in 2014 and “was a state-level sanctuary policy that limited law enforcement cooperation with ICE unless the arrestee had already been convicted of serious crimes.”

Advocates say the sanctuary law encourages law-abiding immigrants to feel safe in reporting crimes to law enforcement regardless of their immigration status.

The shooting and subsequent manhunt captured the attention of residents in and around Stanislaus County and across the country. At a news conference Thursday in Newman, Christianson pointed out that the suspect was an illegal immigrant.

“He doesn’t belong here; he is a criminal,” the sheriff said, hours before discussing the issue on Fox News.

President Donald Trump even Tweeted about the suspect’s illegal immigration status.

Christianson was among a group of California officials who met with Trump and administration officials at the White House in May to speak against California’s sanctuary laws. “We’re looking for the people who are criminals,” the sheriff said then. “Not the people who are seeking a better life in America.”

Christianson said at Friday’s new conference that Arriaga has been a farm laborer and dairy worker. The sheriff did not provide the name of his employer because he said Arriaga had no long-term, consistent employment at one job.

Arriaga pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor DUI with injury in Madera County Superior Court in September 2014 and was sentenced to five days in jail, fined $1,883 and ordered to attend a first-time DUI offender program, according to the superior court’s clerks office. Arriaga also was placed on three years’ bench or informal probation.

The clerk’s office said a $15,000 bench warrant was issued in January 2015 for a defendant identified as Gustavo Perez, who has the same birth date as Gustavo Perez Arriaga, for failing to appear at his arraignment in another misdemeanor DUI case.

Arriaga was represented by Dan Martin from the public defender’s office. Martin said while he recognized Arriaga from his photo he did not recall the details from the case and said the file was not available.

But Martin said after 11 years as a public defender “only the extremes stand out. Knowing that, it would suggest he was not an impossible monster or an incredibly nice guy.”

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Kevin Valine covers local government, homelessness and general assignment for The Modesto Bee. He is a graduate of San Jose State University and grew up in San Jose.