SEABROOK – Following the recent arrest of three individuals for the murder of a 14-year-old girl, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Prince George’s County officials are disputing over the detention and release of two of the alleged suspects in a previous arrest from a year ago.
The Prince George’s County Police Department (PGPD) announced the arrest of 16-year-old Josue Fuentes-Ponce of Bladensburg, 17-year-old Joel Escobar of Washington, D.C. and 14-year-old Cynthia Hernandez-Nucamendi of Lothian in connection with the death of 14-year-old Ariana Funes-Diaz of Adelphi.
They are currently being held without bond pending trial.
According to county police officials, her body was discovered in a creek on 64th Avenue in Riverdale on May 15. An autopsy ruled that Funes-Diaz’s death was a homicide.
Preliminary investigations and interviews with the suspects revealed that the three together, with Funes-Diaz, were involved in an unidentified crime in Washington, D.C. on April 17. Out of fear that she would tell police about the incident, the three suspects and a fourth anonymous person agreed to killing Funes-Diaz.
The four suspects took the 14-year-old to an apartment building on the 6300 block of 64th Avenue on April 18. Maj. Brian Reilly of the Criminal Investigation Division for PGPD said the group walked together to a wooded area and began assaulting her. The four suspects used a machete and a baseball bat.
“What we believe took place was that she was going to go to the police department or go to the authorities and say what took place and that the crime that was committed,” Reilly said.
She died immediately from her injuries. Officials confirmed Fuentes and Escobar have affiliations with the Salvadorian street gang known as MS-13. However, based on conversations with PGPD’s gang unit, there is not an uptick in gang violence in the county, Reilly said.
“This was a very brutal attack,” Reilly said. “This is not two gangs waring against each other; this is a gang that turned on itself or its associate and extreme violence was used.”
ICE issued a statement denouncing county officials for releasing Fuentes and Escobar, two undocumented immigrants, after a prior arrest. The agency issued a detainer in May of last year to keep them in custody, but the county did not respond to notify ICE on their release from the corrections system.
“As law enforcement officers, we must continue to serve and protect the American public and act in the interest of public safety first,” Baltimore Field Office Director Diane Witte said. “These individuals had demonstrated violent criminal behavior before, and because they were released in spite of the lawful detainer, they were afforded an opportunity to take a life.”
ICE officials say that both suspects entered the country illegally at different times. Fuentes arrived on Dec. 23, 2015, with his family in Texas. On March 16, 2017, an immigration judge ordered Fuentes removed in absentia. Escobar arrived and was found unaccompanied by immigration officials on Aug. 23, 2016, near McAllen, Texas. The Office of Refugee Resettlement released him to a family member who lived in the Washington, D.C. area.
Prince George’s County Department of Corrections confirmed that Escobar and Fuentes were taken into custody on attempted murder and attempted robbery charges on May 11, 2018.
A court order placed both individuals in the Cheltenham Youth Detention Center. Fuentes was released following his case proceedings. Escobar pled guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery and received a time-served sentence on March 15. He was released to a family member.
Prince George’s County Department of Corrections Director Mary Lou McDonough said an ICE’s detainer is not a warrant but a civil request to keep suspects in custody. Under a detainer, the suspects would stay under county supervision until federal prosecutors decide to press charges or deport them back to their country of origin.
“It’s basically a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution to hold someone without due process and a warrant,” McDonough said.
According to McDonough, the county ignored the detainers issued because of a guidance memorandum released by Attorney General Brian Frosh. It states local jurisdictions do not need to inform ICE about an individual being released, even if a detainer is received.
“The government bears the burden of proving that the detention of someone beyond the person’s state-law release date does not violate the Fourth Amendment and its Maryland counterpart,” the memorandum said.
ICE officials have said that they will lodge more detainers with the county corrections department to keep them in custody. They have not decided to deport or charge them with federal crimes.
Meanwhile, PGPD is still looking for a fourth suspect and are asking the public to call their Crime Solvers tip hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS.