The deportation of Edgar Vargas Azarte came to a screeching halt thanks to an assist from the Department of Justice (DOJ). The Santa Ana immigrant sin papeles is at home with monitor bracelets around his ankle instead of being detained by immigration authorities at Theo Lacy.
The DOJ turned the tables in his case by telling a federal judge on October 1 that they needed him for an investigation. The probe probably surrounds the beating he suffered at the hands of Santa Ana's finest.
Officers arrested Vargas back in June on suspicion of attempted burglary. When he appeared to surrender, cops clobbered Vargas with fists, batons and even Tased him. Home security cameras filmed the beatdown and the video went viral.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) nabbed Vargas as he later made his way to court with every intention of fighting the charges, including battery on a cop. It was all too much for Senior Deputy public defender Frank Bittar. He wrote a complaint to the DOJ in late August claiming ICE obstructed justice when they arrested his client.
"Mr. Vargas is currently in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service," ICE spokeswoman Lori K. Haley confirms. The agency declined to comment on the DOJ complaint.
But wait, there's more!
Not only did Vargas get freed from ICE, but the Orange County District Attorney's (OCDA) office dropped all but one criminal charge against him yesterday. He still faces attempted burglary. OC prosecutors, though, scrubbed the felony battery on a peace officer and misdemeanor resisting arrest charges.
Gone, too, is the 'great bodily injury' enhancement that held Vargas' head responsible for breaking Santa Ana officer Brian Booker's punch-happy hand.
"We have determined that we're unable to proceed because we can't prove the other counts beyond a reasonable doubt," says OCDA Chief of Staff Susan Kang Schroeder.
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Bittar thinks the charges shouldn't have been brought against Vargas in the first place, calling the OCDA's sudden shift "shameful" in saying it took pressure from the federal government to make it happen.
"We hope that there are consequences for these police officers who brutalized Vargas," Bittar adds. "Perhaps it will send it message. But if they get slapped on the wrist, nothing will change."
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2