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Denver defends release of illegal immigrant later charged in murder

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - The Denver Sheriff's Department on Tuesday defended its release of an illegal immigrant after he posted bond on theft charges only to be arrested for murder weeks later, saying it had no authority to hold him.

Ever Valles, 19, a Mexican national, was released from the Denver jail in late December. Last week he was charged by state prosecutors, along with another defendant, in the murder and robbery of a man at a light rail station this month.

The case has drawn parallels to the 2015 murder of a 32-year-old woman, Kathryn Steinle, who was fatally shot at a San Francisco tourist site by a five-time deported Mexican immigrant.

That case gave fuel to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, as the Republican candidate vowed to crack down on people entering the United States illegally.

The sheriff’s department said that while the killing was a “tragedy,” once Valles posted bond it was required by law to release him.

“Denver has never and will never condone dangerous or violent individuals being on our streets, immigrants or not,” the statement said.“However, detaining anyone without a criminal warrant is a violation of the Fourth Amendment” of the U.S. Constitution.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials said in a statement that after Valles was arrested, it placed a detainer with the Denver County jail to hold him until its agents could take him into federal custody.

“The detainer wasn’t honored and he was released by the jail ... without prior notification,” ICE said.“Valles is a known gang member whose gang history is documented in the Colorado gang database.”

Valles is charged along with Nathan Valdez, also 19, with aggravated robbery and first-degree murder in the shooting death of 32-year-old Timothy Cruz on Feb. 7.

In 2014, Denver said it would not hold people in its jail at the request of ICE once they were eligible for release on the charges on which they were arrested.

Trump issued an executive order last month pledging to withhold federal funds from cities that do not cooperate with immigration authorities, prompting Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, a Democrat, to say that his officers would not act as federal agents.

“If being a sanctuary city means that our law enforcement officers are expected to do the work of federal immigration authorities or violate the constitutional rights of any of our people, we reject that,” Hancock said in a video statement.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Leslie Adler)