Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green announced on Wednesday that no charges will be brought against two U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents for their role in a car accident in March that killed two undocumented farmworkers.
The Delano Police Department had requested a review of evidence that they believed might have showed the agents lied.
Early on the morning of March 13, Santos Hilario Garcia, 35, and Marcelina Garcia Perfecto, 33, were driving in Delano looking for field work when vehicles operated by ICE agents signaled their car to pull over. As soon as they stopped, and ICE agents got out of their vehicles, Hilario sped off, attempting to flee.
Moments later, Hilario's truck had hit a telephone pole and flipped over, killing them both. The couple left behind six children, ages 8 to 18.
According to the Delano Police Department’s investigation into the crash, the ICE agents told detectives that once Hilario began to flee, they terminated their attempt to stop the vehicle and were not “in pursuit” with emergency lights.
However, according to the Delano Police Department's report, surveillance video collected by police showed the ICE agents' SUVs driving behind the victims’ car with front and/or rear emergency lights activated, contradicting the agents’ statements.
No person shall give, either orally or in writing, information to a peace officer while in the performance of his duties under the provision of this code when such person knows that the information is false.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Green told reporters that her office would not bring criminal charges against the ICE agents, because she did not believe the agents chased the victims' Ford pickup truck, and that there wasn’t a legal basis to pursue the charges under Vehicle Code 31.
"It appears to me, from my review of the surveillance video, that both agents were obeying traffic rules. And in the relevant 10-second clip that was provided to my office, neither agent’s vehicle appeared to be overtaking the Ford," Green said.
"Were the agents following the Ford? Yes. Were they speeding to catch up to the Ford? No."
Green said that video showing ICE officers’ vehicles with emergency lights on was from an earlier period of time, not immediately before the crash, and pointed to statements from three witnesses who indicated that the victims’ car was not being chased just before the accident.
In order for there to be a violation of Vehicle Code 31, Green said, any such false statements knowingly made to a police officer must be material to the incident.
“These statements were not material. The only way they could be considered material is if the pursuit with lights and sirens was a factor in the cause of the accident,” Green said.
Shortly after the announcement on Wednesday, farmworkers who knew the couple that died were out in the fields, trimming leaves from table grape vines on a plot of land in rural Delano.
“I don’t think that’s fair, they took two lives away. And they left six children behind,” Farm Labor Contractor Jasmine Quintanilla said.
“I imagine for (Hilario’s) brother, for their children, it must be very hard. If they died and there aren’t charges, it’s like you’re saying their lives weren’t worth anything. Because, well, nothing happened,” said Rosa Lopez, a forewoman who worked with Hilario and Garcia for around three years.
At least two farmworkers said that Hilario had been pulled over under very similar circumstances a year ago.
According to the workers, the couple was pulled over by ICE near their home. Because the couple’s children came outside, agents detained and eventually deported only Hilario -- but they let Garcia stay.
The workers believe Hilario attempted to get away this time because he didn’t want to be separated from his family again.
A spokesperson for ICE called the crash “isolated and extremely unfortunate,” adding that sanctuary policies have pushed the agency’s officers out of jails and into the community, increasing risks for the public.
The Delano Police Department did not respond to the DA's decision.