By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
In the aftermath, Anaheim PD and ICE have refused to tell Nick O'Malley, Noriega's attorney, what happened or identity the shooter. Over government objections, O'Malley is seeking to enforce a subpoena to get answers. Officials say they are entitled to keep the information a secret because, they claim, there's an ongoing investigation into filing charges against Noriega.
Both assertions are malarkey. Government officials know exactly what happened. This unidentified ICE agent, who hadn't done adequate preparation work, prematurely locked himself into the erroneous belief that he'd found a fugitive, failed to identify himself in an incident he provoked near an elementary school, fired his weapon at an unarmed person, lost the suspect, and then looked for an excuse to mask his own incompetence.
How can I make such a statement? Even before Noriega made his 911 call, Anaheim PD officials knew ICE had botched the operation. One police official with insider knowledge described the shooting as "FUBAR"—fucked up beyond all recognition.
ICE and Anaheim PD won't admit it publicly, but the man they'd been looking for wasn't Noriega, the father of a 4-year-old girl. They'd been looking for Juan Carlos Alcala, a 38-year-old, Costa Mesa-based, major international cocaine dealer and fugitive with a federal warrant for his arrest. At the time the ICE agent took his shot at Noriega, Alcala was more than 120 miles south in Mexico.
Nine days after the Noriega fiasco, immigrant officials finally got the right man when Alcala crossed into the U.S. Earlier this month in a federal court in Texas, he pleaded guilty to cocaine-distribution and money-laundering counts. Whenever he's sentenced, he'll face a maximum punishment of life in prison, plus $8.5 million in fines.
Still, despite the dramatic developments, Noriega and O'Malley remain in the dark. Officials won't tell them what happened, except that the mystery agent remains on the job. On April 17, Orange County Superior Court Judge William Monroe will decide whether to force the government to come clean.
This column appeared in print as "Ice ICE, Baby: Why are government officials protecting an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent who almost killed an innocent Anaheim man?"