LatinoJustice Questions Handling Of Defendant

T. E. McMorrow
Victor Hugo Sojos-Valladares was brought back to East Hampton Town Justice Court one last time on October 10. He is now in federal custody, awaiting trial, and facing up to 20 years in prison.

LatinoJustice Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund has, in a letter sent to East Hampton Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo, questioned the handling of a defendant whose family, they say, tried to bail him out while he was being held by the East Hampton Town police on August 22. The man, Victor Sojos-Valladares, was eventually picked up by federal marshals at East Hampton Town police headquarters and is currently being held in the federal Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. He is facing a federal felony charge of illegal re-entry into the country and a possible extended sentence to prison before being deported.

LatinoJustice says in its letter, written by Jose Perez, the organization’s deputy general counsel, a court ordered warrant was not in place when Sojos-Valladares was turned over to the federal marshals, while his family was trying to bail him out.

In an email sent to LatinoJustice on October 9, which was CC’d to both the East Hampton Town Attorney’s office and Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, East Hampton Town police Chief Michael Sarlo denied the allegation, pointing out the department’s strong relationship with advocacy groups such as Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island.

OLA is representing the alleged victim in the domestic violence case that sparked the arrest of Victor Sojos-Valladares.

LatinoJustice PRLDEF was founded as Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund back in 1972. Its mission has grown over the years, and it is one of the leading advocacy groups for the immigrant community. Its board of directors has included luminaries such as current Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

According to the letter sent to Sarlo on September 26 from LatinoJustice, bail had been set for Victor Sojos-Valladares by East Hampton Town Justice Lisa Rana earlier that day at $2000, following an alleged domestic violence incident.

Sojos-Valladares’s sister “obtained the bail money and went to the precinct to post it,” the letter says. The police, the letter states, “refused to accept the bail money.”

While there was a detainer request from Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the court file, New York State does not recognize these administrative requests as judicial warrants. The letter points to an Appeals Court decision, stemming out of a Suffolk County case, that held that it was illegal for law enforcement agencies to honor these non-judicial documents from ICE.

“After three hours of attempting to pay the bail,” the letter states, the sister called Sojos-Valladares’s attorneys at the Legal Aid Society. Matthew D’Amato of the Legal Aid Society had represented Sojos-Valladares for his arraignment on a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of breathing.

When Legal Aid contacted the police, the letter states, they were told that Sojos-Valladares had been turned over to ICE. The letter concludes by asking for a meeting with Sarlo, and an investigation into what happened on August 22.

In response, Sarlo wrote that he had investigated the claim, and found it baseless. He writes that, when Sojos-Valladares was returned to police headquarters following his arraignment, two federal marshals were already there, saying that, if the defendant was released, they would take him into custody. The police were told that a signed warrant from a federal judge was being faxed to the department. “As an hour passed, and the warrant had still not been received,” Sarlo wrote, “the sergeant once again explained to the U.S. marshals that we would have to accept bail, and release the defendant.”

The marshals, Sarlo writes, along with a Spanish-speaking town police officer, went into the lobby and explained to Sojos-Valladares’s family that, if they posted the bail, the marshals would still take the defendant into custody, “or they could keep their bail money, and the marshals would take him into custody on the warrant.” Sarlo continues, “The family was advised of this, but didn’t seem to grasp the entire process.”

“The EHTPD has a solid and valid policy and procedure regarding ICE notifications,” Sarlo continues, “which have been shared with the public, the town board, the anti-bias task force, OLA, and the local ACLU.”

Because of the holiday weekend, The Independent was not able to reach Perez and LatinoJustice before press time for their response to Sarlo’s letter.

The Independent obtained a copy of the federal warrant signed off on by United States Magistrate Judge Arlene Lindsay on August 22. It states that Victor Hugo Sojos-Valladares was convicted of attempted burglary, classified as a violent felony, in 2011, after being arrested by East Hampton Town police. Twice, he had climbed into residences of two different women he did not know while they was sleeping. They awoke, and began screaming, leading to his arrest and conviction. He was sentenced to one year in prison, then was judicially ordered out of the country and was deported.

In such cases, a charge of illegal re-entry into the United States in classified as an aggravated felony crime.

According to federal court records, Sojos-Valladares, also known as Angel Bermeo, was arraigned in front of Lindsay the day after he was taken into custody. She issued an order of detention against Sojos-Valladares. He was indicted in early September on a charge of illegally re-entering the country after being deported following conviction of an “aggravated” felony. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in federal prison.

On Thursday, October 10, Sojos-Valladares was brought back to East Hampton Town Justice Court. He was temporarily in the custody of the Suffolk County sheriffs. He was brought back after the Legal Aid Society issued a writ, demanding he be produced.

He agreed to plead guilty to a simple violation of disorderly conduct. The misdemeanor charge was dropped. He was sentenced to time served. The sheriffs took him back to county jail in Riverside, where he was turned back over to federal authorities.

He remains in the Brooklyn detention center, awaiting trial on the federal charge.

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