A sheriff challenger pledges to withdraw from ICE partnership

Federal courts have repeatedly ruled against local officials who hold people in jail beyond their scheduled release based on ICE “detainer” requests. In January, ICE and 17 Florida sheriffs launched a new bid to circumvent those rulings; they announced a new sort of agreement, which they claim will enable local officials to legally hold people suspected of being undocumented for 48 extra hours while ICE prepares to detain them. The ACLU disputes that the new mechanism changes the legality of ICE detainers. “The new scheme is simply a change in paperwork, with no relevant legal changes,” says the ACLU.

Among the 17 sheriffs who joined this partnership is Chad Chronister of Hillsborough County, which contains Tampa. A Republican who was appointed to this office by Governor Rick Scott in 2017, Chronister is now seeking a full term.

While Chronister’s cooperation with ICE has drawn protests, local leaders from both parties have rallied around the sheriff. A month after his appointment, in October 2017, Chronister held a campaign kickoff with prominent county politicians, including Democrats like Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and State Attorney Andrew Warren. Chronister then joined ICE’s new program in January; Buckhorn and Warren have since reiterated their endorsements of Chronister.

Gary Pruitt, a former Tampa police corporal and Chronister’s Democratic challenger, told me on Monday that he would “definitely withdraw” from Chronister’s new partnership with ICE if he were elected. He said that the agreement implements a “dragnet approach” as federal authorities can target people on the local jails’ databases even if they didn’t “have somebody that they’re looking at.” “All you’re doing is screwing with people,” Pruitt said, noting that “the stigma of how we participated” makes communities distrust local law enforcement and endangers public safety.

The Appeal’s George Joseph writes on other issues in the Hillsborough County sheriff’s office, including its “troubling opacity regarding custody jail deaths.”

Update (Nov. 11): Chad Chronister won a full term on Nov. 6.