Los Vecinos de Buford Highway, an organization that advocates for immigrants and tenants, is asking the Brookhaven Police Department to publicly apologize for assisting federal immigration agents in a recent arrest at a Buford Highway apartment complex. The apology is needed “rebuild the trust” between the police and those living along Buford Highway, according to the organization.

The full letter from Los Vecinos de Buford Highway to the Brookhaven Police Department as posted on Facebook.

Brookhaven Police Deputy Chief Brandon Gurley said officers were only serving as backup for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency agents during their June 6 operation to arrest a suspect at the Terraces at Brookhaven apartments at 3510 Buford Highway. Plans are to reach out to Los Vecinos de Buford Highway, he added.

He said the department’s policy remains to not lead immigration crackdowns or arrest suspected undocumented immigrants. The department, however, will always respond to requests for backup from law enforcement agencies, including ICE, he added.

In a June 10 letter posted to social media, Los Vecinos de Buford Highway President Marco Palma wrote it was “unsettling” for Latino and immigrant residents to witness Brookhaven Police officers help an ICE agent chase down a suspect and help hold him down as he was handcuffed. The arrest was broadcast live on Facebook by Mundo Hispánico, the state’s largest Spanish-language news outlet. The video has 161,000 views, according to Facebook.

Palma said many in the Latino community felt betrayed by the Brookhaven Police Department after being told in the past that the department does not work with ICE. The police department has worked with Los Vecinos de Buford Highway to build trust with Latino residents, Palma said, including many Latino residents participating in the department’s Hispanic Citizen’s Police Academy.

“Your office has always been responsive and sensitive to the Latinx and immigrant community that both lives and works in the Brookhaven area,” Palma wrote. “In fact, we are happy to note that we have helped facilitate positive communication and relationship building between the apartment residents that live along Buford Highway and Brookhaven police officers.”

But the many people who have seen the video are now fearful of Brookhaven Police officers and the trust once there has evaporated, Palma said. “We will not tolerate moral indifference or the excuse that officers are simply following orders,” he said.

Gurley explained that on the morning of June 6, ICE called Brookhaven Police for help to arrest a non-violent suspect wanted for missing a deportation hearing. The suspect had locked himself in a work van and refused to come out at the request of ICE agents, Gurley said.

ICE agents were on the scene in unmarked cars and black shirts and khakis with weapons. Gurley said Brookhaven Police officers were called to the scene to explain to the suspect in the van that the agents were actual law enforcement and he needed to exit the vehicle. The suspect refused to come out, however, Gurley said.

After about a half-hour, ICE agents decided rather than breaking the van’s windows to remove the forcefully remove the suspect, they would leave the apartment complex and park down the road to wait in case the suspect drove away in the van.

ICE agents also asked Brookhaven Police officers to make a traffic stop of the suspect as he drove out of the complex, Gurley said, to allow ICE agents to make the arrest. Gurley said officers declined to conduct such a traffic stop because the suspect already proved to be risk by refusing to exit the vehicle.

“We didn’t want to risk him taking off and putting others at risk,” Gurley said.

Several of the ICE agents left in their unmarked cars, but one ICE officer remained hidden at the complex in case the suspect made a run for an apartment, Gurley said.

Brookhaven Police officers were still on the scene in their cars when the suspect did get out of the van and made a run for an apartment. The ICE agent pursued the suspect and Brookhaven Police officers assisted in the chase and the eventual take down and arrest, Gurley said.

“We are not going to let an officer chase a suspect alone, so we helped in the chase,” Gurley said. “We helped him get handcuffed and the ICE agent took custody of him.”

“Our purpose anytime we assist any agency, whether FBI or DEA, a local agency, Georgia State Patrol, is to provide the same level of assistance,” he said.

Gurley said Brookhaven Police does not conduct immigration arrests but will provide backup when requested.

“We will provide backup to ICE. We are not going to execute a warrant or an arrest warrant. We are there to make sure the officers are safe and constitutional rights are followed,” he added.

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