In a Private Facebook Group, California Police Brag About Breaking State Law to Help ICE

Some officers have recently boasted about breaking state law and collaborating with ICE, according to messages posted in the group and obtained by The Appeal.

A view of a California Highway Patrol officer's helmet
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In a Private Facebook Group, California Police Brag About Breaking State Law to Help ICE

Some officers have recently boasted about breaking state law and collaborating with ICE, according to messages posted in the group and obtained by The Appeal.

California’s state and local police are prohibited from stopping, investigating, or detaining anyone based solely on their immigration status. This sanctuary state policy means that they cannot assist federal ICE agents when they are seeking to arrest and deport undocumented people for immigration violations.

Despite the efforts of law enforcement groups like the California State Sheriffs’ Association, which lobbied against these legal protections when they were debated by state lawmakers in 2017, the state legislature overwhelmingly approved Senate Bill 54, known as the California Values Act. The law went into effect on Jan. 1, 2018.

Still, some police officers have recently boasted about breaking state law and collaborating with ICE agents, according to messages recently posted in a private Facebook group and obtained by The Appeal.

The social media comments raise questions about how effective California’s sanctuary policies actually are when police officers can subvert the law and continue working with ICE and Border Patrol.

The Facebook comments obtained by The Appeal were part of a discussion started on Oct. 2, when a retired California Highway Patrol officer posted a question in a private group also named California Highway Patrol.

“Are CHP officers being prohibited from working with ICE?” the retired officer asked. Multiple current and retired CHP officers replied that they are willing to break the law to help ICE deport people.

“We were told do not call them,” CHP Officer Tony Ramborger wrote in response to the question. “I said BS i will call them if I get a load vehicle,” he continued, referring to a car containing drugs or other contraband. “That A-hole in sacto can charge me and I will have the weight of the federal gov. When i am found not guilty i will sue for wrongful termination and go to work for Fox news.”

The highway patrol confirmed that Ramborger joined CHP in 1990 and worked out of Los Angeles until moving to the agency’s Temecula station where he is currently posted.

In response to questions from The Appeal about his Facebook comment, Ramborger denied ever assisting federal immigration agents. “I don’t work with ICE,” he wrote in a Facebook direct message. “I will just do my duty to my oath in any encounter.”

Former state Senator Kevin de León, who authored Senate Bill 54, said that the CHP remained neutral when the bill was being considered in 2017, and that he believes the Facebook comments of a few are not representative of the average police officer’s beliefs.

“This small minority is by no means a reflection of the outstanding men and women who serve us every day in the CHP,” said de León.

But he added that even a small number of rogue officers can undermine trust between California’s millions of immigrants and law enforcement. One of the main goals of SB 54, de León said, is to ensure that undocumented immigrants are confident that if they report crimes and cooperate with the police, their information won’t be given to federal immigration agents.

Although the Facebook group is not an official account run by the highway patrol, it has over 12,000 members, including current and retired CHP officers as well as police and sheriffs deputies from other agencies. The group’s private status means that it appears in searches, but only members can see content such as the thread about working with ICE.

“Well, Ironically enough I backed 3 ICE units up this morning on Bell St.,” CHP Officer Chris Kelly wrote in the comment thread.

Kelly did not respond to emails sent to his CHP address or direct messages over Facebook, but according to CHP records, he works out of the highway patrol’s North Sacramento station.

The Appeal provided a complete copy of the Facebook discussion thread to the highway patrol for comment. Without directly referring to Officer Kelly, CHP communications director Fran Clader said the department reviewed his actions and determined that he did not violate state law or CHP policy.

“A CHP officer observed 3 unmarked law enforcement vehicles initiate a traffic stop on Bell street just south of El Camino Avenue,” Clader told The Appeal. “As is protocol on any stop involving law enforcement, he pulled in behind to back them up. The officer did not know they were ICE agents until they got out of their cars. He cleared the scene after confirming the agents did not need any assistance.”

Clader did not specifically comment on any other officer’s comments in the Facebook thread. However, Clader added, “the Department holds all of its employees to a high standard of conduct. Any allegation of misconduct whether on or off duty is investigated and the appropriate action taken as necessary.”

One officer who took part in the Facebook discussion, Marc Lobdell, wrote that although officers are not supposed to collaborate with ICE, “There’s ways around stupid-ass liberal state policy.”

Lobdell wrote, “By the end of my career, [Border Patrol] knew to always pull in behind when they saw me on a traffic stop. They are fully aware of the bullshit state policy and that ‘real’ officers hate it.”

CHP records show that Lobdell retired in December 2018, 12 months after the California Values Act went into effect. Lobdell did not respond to messages from The Appeal.

Comments made by the Facebook group’s members also included a retired CHP officer saying he would “call ICE in a heartbeat” on his own time after work and provide the name and address of an undocumented person so that they could be deported. At least one current CHP officer gave a “thumbs up” to the comment.

Another retired CHP officer wrote, “Yes cooperate. Get illegal criminals out.”

Further down the discussion thread, a retired state parole agent called Governor Gavin Newsom “Gavin Nazisom,” and another retired CHP officer chimed in that Border Patrol agents used to give boxes of ammunition to state police when they turned over undocumented people.

Immigration advocates who reviewed the officers’ comments expressed dismay that police would casually discuss breaking state law to help ICE and Customs and Border Protection deport people.

“These brazen admissions cry out for investigation, accountability and action,” said Jon Rodney, a spokesperson for the Immigrant Defense Project. “How many abuses of power did these officers commit, and how many Californians did they tear from their communities?”

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