Police have released body camera footage from a traffic stop in June amid accusations that Bellingham officers racially profiled a teen who was sent to an immigrant detention center after being pulled over.
In September, local civil rights activists accompanied Alfredo “Lelo” Juarez, 15, as he handed Bellingham police a formal complaint that accuses officers of violating department policy by asking about Lelo’s immigration status and by calling U.S. Customs and Border Protection while trying to verify his identity.
The police report says Lelo was pulled over for driving the wrong way on a one-way street near downtown Bellingham around 10:40 p.m on June 20, 2015. The reason he was pulled over has not been disputed by Lelo or civil rights activists and was not included in the complaint.
Alfredo “Lelo” Juarez, 15, was pulled over June 20 for driving the wrong way on a one-way street near downtown Bellingham and eventually sent to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. His formal complaint about racial profiling is currently under review by Bellingham Police.
Rosalinda Guillen, an activist with a racial justice and immigrant rights group called Latino Advocacy, has said the problem is that Bellingham officers called Border Patrol at all. As a result, Lelo was taken to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma and stayed there for a day before he was brought home to his family in Mount Vernon.
Guillen said Lelo’s parents “went through 12 hours of hell” trying to figure out what happened to their son while he was in Customs and Border Protection custody. Lelo, after handing Bellingham police the complaint, told members of the media that the experience scared him because he thought he was going to be deported, and he couldn’t contact his parents.
Officer Zackery Serad, who conducted the traffic stop, wrote in his police report that Border Patrol agents were called to help him identify Lelo after the teen lied about his age and provided no driver’s license. Only after exhausting all resources, Serad wrote, did he contact Border Patrol to help him identify the teen.
The video from Serad’s body camera that police have released picks up with Serad asking Lelo, who was driving a Ford Mustang, for his full name and identification.
Lelo gives his full name, Alfredo Juarez, and a Mount Vernon address but tells the officer he is 18 years old and provides no driver’s license. The officers then run that information through their patrol computer but get no return on a Washington state license.
Either you got some warrants out for your arrest in California, or you’re not permitted to be in the U.S., which I don’t believe that’s the case, but something’s not adding up here.
Officer Zackery Serad, speaking to Alfredo “Lelo” Juarez
The officers return to the car and ask Lelo if he has a current Washington driver’s license, and Lelo says no, but that he has one in California. He then provides the officer with a work identification card with his name and a photo that, according to the police report, seemed to match that of the driver. Dispatch was again unable to find a California driver’s license that matched.
When Lelo finally admits he doesn’t have a license out of California, Serad presses further.
“Either you got some warrants out for your arrest in California, or you’re not permitted to be in the U.S., which I don’t believe that’s the case, but something’s not adding up here,” Serad tells Lelo.
About 20 minutes into the video, after officers checked the name Lelo provided again, Serad takes Lelo out of the car and asks about his immigration status.
“When did you become a U.S. resident, or are you one? Kind of an important question for you,” Serad asks.
“No, no, no, I’m not one,” Lelo says.
In the video, Serad then asks how he “got into the states,” and Lelo replies he came when he was living with his parents. He explains he is applying for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which is a national program that exempts immigrants from deportation if they entered the country under the age of 16.
At that point, Serad tells the teen to sit on the curb, shuts off his body camera and calls Border Patrol.
Representatives from multiple civil rights groups who stood by Lelo’s side when he handed the complaint to police in September have said the way Lelo was handled should be considered racial profiling.
The Bellingham Police Department is still investigating the complaint and whether officers followed policy in calling Border Patrol agents. Depending on the outcome of the investigation, consequences could range from no action, a verbal or written reprimand, or termination of employment.
Lt. Bob Vander Yacht has said the department is “willing to take a hard look at the situation.” He said he could not comment much further on the video while the complaint was being investigated.
Maru Mora Villalpando, with Latino Advocacy, said they requested a copy of the video but have not received it.
There is no set timetable for a response to the complaint, Vander Yacht said.
Reach Wilson Criscione at 360-756-2803 or firstname.lastname@example.org.