Suffolk Police Chief Will Review MS-13 Gang Confirmations After Pressure From Human Rights Advocates
The following is a partial transcript of a meeting between Suffolk County Police Commissioner, Timothy Sini, with various local community leaders. Both Ala Amoachi and Bryan Johnson attended the meeting.
Here is the audio:
1. “My name is Bryan Johnson. We represent hundreds of unaccompanied alien children on long island. We have been doing it for years. and it would be an understatement to say we are extremely disturbed by what we’ve been seeing from the schools, the SCPD, and ICE. So i have some concerns regarding this. and I am going to start with, um, you said to the senate, right, that intelligence is shared between SCPD regarding gang members and homeland security. Can you elaborate on any other ways that you collaborate with ICE?
2. Sini: We work with the DHS on number of different investigations, they have a criminal investigative arm, they investigate drugs , they investigate…
3. Me: No i mean, w/ respect to gangs?
4. Sini: We collaborate with the DHS in a number of different criminal investigations.
5. Me: Do Suffolk county police officers, do they make arrests exclusively on behalf of ICE?
6. Sini: No.
7. Me: They don’t. Well, I have a client, right, he was, I just want to use this as an example, ok?
8. Sini: This is not how this forum works actually.
9. Me: How does it work?
10. Sini: You asked me a question. I haven’t finished answering it.
11. Me: Ok, sorry, I apologize.
12. Sini: We do joint operations with the DHS to target MS-13 members for detention and commencement for removal proceedings or whatever may be appropriate under the immigration…we will work with the DHS carefully targeting members of MS-13
13. Me: Well, I mean, I am not saying you have knowledge of this, but maybe it is something you want to look into because some officers might be doing it because i spoke to my client, who is 17, he was identified by scpd as a confirmed MS-13 member, and in no unspoken, in very clear language, he said, first he was arrested for disorderly conduct on June 9, he was released on June 15, on June 16, at his home, when he got home, there were two scpd officers there, one of them was officer matthew t. fernandez, and he said ‘you are not here legally, i have to bring you to immigration. He took him in the scpd car and brought him the the federal court house in central islip. so I mean, i believe my client, and there’s several people who saw it and.
14. Sini: I can’t speak to that specific case, i’m not going to, but it there’s not necessarily. if that’s someone who was on our target list for ms-13 activity, that’s not necessarily violative of what we we are asking our officers to do.
15. Me: Uh, I mean, correct me if I am wrong, but the suffolk county doesn’t have a 287g agreement w/ ICE?
16. Sini: that’s correct.
17. Me: So there would be no authority to make that kind of arrest, no?
18. Sini: Well, if it’s a joint collaborative effort w/ the DHS…
19. Me: Got it.
20. Me: And, that brings me to the other important question, we’ve been scratching our heads, what does one have to do to become a confirmed ms-13 member,.
21. Sini: We have a written rule and procedure about the different requirements that have to be checked before one is confirmed as an ms-13 gang member. There’s also a time restriction on it. you can only be confirmed for a certain period of time before you have to either be reconfirmed or taken off the list. That criteria is based on the FBI’s criteria, we’ve actually made it more restrictive to identify ms-13 or any other gang then the FBI requires and we are not going to share that with because it would be detrimental to our efforts to let gang members KNOW what we are looking for in terms of identifying the.
22. Me: but that is shared w/ the schools, right?
23. Sini: the criteria, no? that’s not shared
24. ME: the school dress code, i mean we have had a lot of kids suspended.
25. Sini: we educate the schools about what we think are telltale signs of gang membership.
26. Me: Like 503, 504, is that enough on its own?
27. Sini: I’m not going to, that’s essentially a run around.
28. Me: I mean, it’s not a run-around…
29. Sini: of the previous statement that i am not going to share the criteria. there is, typically there has to be multiple indicators, but there may be scenarios where 1 indicator is sufficient, but i’m not going to give the details about our formula to confirm MS-13 gang members, and I think the reason should be obvious…
30. ME: Ok, there’s been how many arrests approximately of ms-13 confirmed gang members. I am talking about arrests regarding, that were subsequently handed over to ICE.
31. Me: Just a rough, rough estimate. if you don’t know.
32. Sini: Those where ICE has made arrests.
33. Me: yeah, or collaborating.
34. Sini: I believe it’s approximately 90.
35. Me: Um, Do you think it’s possible that any of those kids were wrongly identified by SCPD?
36. Sini: Look, if someone is wrongly identified and they are being picked up for being ms13 gang member, they should have recourse with ICE to fight that.
37. Me: ICE, we have these clients, they are not getting that recourse, so I think that, the consequences for these kids are very severe…
38. Sini: So, look, there’s going to be arrests, that ICE makes that have nothing to do with SCPD. But elsewhere we are asking ICE to assist us, we stand by our confirmation. We have a robust policy and practice on how we confirm ms13 gang members. We stand by each and every name that we give to ICE. Now, there could be cases where ICE, where the arrest has nothing to do with SCPD. Again, I’m not going to vouch for another agency. But when we are collaborating, when we are providing ICE information, we standby that information.These are not only people we are certain are ms-13, these are people who we think are dangerous to public safety. we are going to continue doing this. It is an important strategy. it’s one prong in our multifaceted strategy. Our strategy involved collecting intelligence, making street arrests for local crimes, working w/ the the FBI to make RICO cases. We have done both those things very successfully. The third part of our law enforcement strategy is to work with the DHS to detain active ms-13 gang members that we consider a threat to suffolk county safety, the last part of our strategy is the gang prevention and gang intervention side.
39. Me: Right, just one more comment, you are wrong. I think you are wrong. Because I know these kids. I know several of these kids. and there’s no way they are Ms-13. I have kids that have been ms-13, I have clients try to kill other clients. So we are not just these civil liberties advocates that defends everyone. I know some of these kids aren’t ms13.
40. Sini: was the case involved with SCPD.
41. Me: Yeah, they are all involved.
42. Sini: you should provide us the names of these individuals. I know that some attorneys in the county have, and there is no question that these people are MS-13, so provide me your list, and I promise you, i will have detectives vet that list a second time to make sure that if there has been any collaboration between SCPD, and the DHS W/ respect to that person, that we are 100% standing behind the confirmation. I can tell you this is what we have been doing. i haven’t had a single case where we have had any doubt about our initial confirmation. If we made a mistake, that’s obviously something we want to know about and correct. This is an important issue. This gang is incredibly violent, and we are making progress in taking some very dangerous people off of our streets. and we are going to utilize all the tools in our toolbox, and that involves collaborating…
43. Unidentified woman: Of those approximate 90 arrests that you mention, can you clarify, do you mean that those arrests were made as you described, you know that SCPD arrested, and there weren’t’ any criminal charges.
44. Sini: Those are immigration arrests of ms13 gang members in suffolk county. some of them involved scpd. some of them did not involve scpd.
45. Unidentified woman: ok, and your answer to his question earlier that you wouldn’t consider an operation to arrest someone for ICE even if there are no criminal charges pending against him?
46. Sini: I don’t know if, I would have to find out if we could do that. I don’t know if we have the legal authority.
47. Unidentified woman: Because I think that is what he just described.
48. Me: Yeah, i’m saying you don’t have the legal authority, you don’t have it.
49. Sini: You have a situation where scpd drove someone to the central islip courthouse:
50. Me: Arrested him, too.
51. Sini: well, correct, well I don’t know if there was a local charge on that…
52. ME: Oh, and he had a list, the officer, with my client’s name on it, with a lot of names on it, and he crossed my client’s name off the list once he arrested him.
53. Sini: I don’t have all the…if there was a local charge on it, they could have been with ice. they could have been working on operation…
54. Unidentified woman: But these 90 don’t involve criminal charges, they’re just…
55. Sini: No, some of them do involve criminal charges but they also are criminal charges plus a violation of immigration laws, and they are ultimately placed in ICE custody, or just….
56. Woman # 2: I have a question about the role of resource officers in the investigation, i know you said you shared information w the schools, but does the flow of information go from the SRO to you, and to ICE?
57. Sini: Resource officers work for me.
58. Woman # 2: I know that.
59. Sini: So the answer is definitely yes.
60. Woman: SO the question i have is these resource officers are police officers in school, are privy to information in school, and the concern is that schools, have such a low level of evidence required for suspensions, so i am questioning, what the policies are regarding the SRO with suspension laws…as they investigate in within a school, say a violation of code of conduct, which can be very minimal, like insubordination, but now they are starting to say gang involvement with i don’t know what kind of evidence. what training and what are protocols of SRO regarding information gathering in school and sharing it with ICE.
61. Sini: SROS play a lot of different roles. There are SROS who are more focused on mentoring. and pushing programs into the classrooms and identifying at risk children to connect them to much needed services but there are… and the concern
62. SINI: School resource officers are also there to ensure the safety of the school. All the students of the educators of the administrators/If they’re collecting gang intelligence they’re going to share that with the appropriate Assets in the department We have a criminal intelligence section…Where the information is warehouse and redistributed to appropriate assetsDoes that answer your question?
63. Woman: I am curious about what training they have. My concern is that I have kids that are afraid to go to school Because they are afraid that ice going to come to them in school. I’m concerned because the school says we don’t ask about immigration status Which is the law by police officers are gathering intelligence…
64. Sini: Of course they are
65. Woman: Then sharing it with ice, So the concern is
66. Sini: No no no no no no no
67. Woman: Maybe I’m confused
68. Sini: I don’t think you’re confused So when school resource officers are gathering intelligence they collect information they learn information and they make sure that information goes to appropriate assets…But if there is somebody that ends up being confirmed as MS-13, which requires specific criteria as per our policy, That information may or may not be shared with ICE depending on what we want to do with it.
69. Woman: “Say a resource officer witnesses in school witnesses a hand gesture that he interprets as gang activity. Now he is sharing it with school. He is sharing it with ICE. he is sharing it with you. Now the child is an alleged gang member.
70. Sini: No, that’s just not accurate.
71. Woman: So clarify.
72. Sini: We have a robust gang confirmation procedure and under those circumstances the individual would not be confirmed.
73. I.S.: So example. Right?
74. Sini: I am not going to disclose any more information about the gang confirmation…
75. Me: I can give you an example from my own clients, so ill give you an example.
76. Sini: I’m actually.
77. Me: this is too much?
78. Sini: I’ve tolerated this. This is totally going off the purpose of the meeting.
79. I.S.: I don’t think it is. We don’t think it is. It actually flows right under the DOJ agreement, right?
80. Sini: Let me ask DOJ where they stand on this conversation, I think it’s only appropriate, right?
81. I.S.: it’s up to you, but I don’t know.
82. Me: If you don’t want to be transparent about it, that’s fine.
83. Sini: I’ve been pretty transparent, but what I don’t want to be transparent about and i’ve been telling you this repeatedly, is the specific criteria that we use to confirm.
84. Me: that’s fine, though.
85. I.S.: I don’t want to get into specific criteria.
86. Sini: But you were about to go into specific examples that’s essentially an end around me saying I don’t want to disclose that.
87. Me: Yeah, but that’s our intelligence.
88. Me: Yeah but like it’s just for example’s purpose, like, right, my client, he was suspended from school for 503, right? That’s my client, not yours…
89. Sini: I’m not doing this.
90. Other police official: give us their names and we will investigate again.
91. Unidentified woman: So the resource officer won’t go throu gh ice directly. he has to go through protocol and give that information to
92. Sini: I’m not saying that in all cases there may be a situation where school resource officers speaking to an official in another federal agency including the department of homeland security.
93. Sini: I think that’s unlikely but there’s nothing in the procedure that prohibits a police officer from collaborating with a federal law enforcement official’s. in fact there was on the Department of chief Burke, for a variety of corrupt reasons, and we remove that procedure.a good process is often helpful for that information to flow from intelligence section 2 intelligence detectives who disseminate that information through appropriate assets in the department. either for enforcement or intervention that information may go to Deputy police Commissioner may go to the precinct, it may go to the detectives assigned to the FBI task force, so we can make sure the fbi knows what’s going on. but there is no rule or procedure prohibiting a police officer from speaking to an Ice Agent.
94. I.S.: How could Parents know what their kids can wear not do to make sure that they are not suspended. I know you said that you do not have control over what schools do but schools are actually relying on you the local law enforcement the code of conduct actually says that they are relying on you to tell them what those indicators are.
95. Sini: no, you are confusing two issues. you are confusing the telltale signs of gang membership like someone wearing a certain color with the confirmation process. that is a huge mistake
96. I.S.: but this is where I am linking it and I will not give examples from linking in this way because I’m really trying to understand. someone was suspended because they were allegedly involved in gang activity this student is suspended and has absolutely no criminal record has had no contact with your department as far as we know and he ends up on a list from your department…
97. Sini: if he ends up on a list for my department that means he is a confirmed MS 13 gang member and they have to be confirmed pursuant to our rules and procedure.
98. I.S.: how do they end up on your confirmed list if they have not had any contact with your department or have had any criminal record.
99. Sini: they’re not going to be on our list that if they have not had any contact with the suffolk county Police Department.
100. I.S. I’m telling you this kid was.
101. Sini: actually I take that back. there are numerous scenarios where someone is confirmed MS 13 and the Suffolk police have never had any direct contact with the individual. witness statements things happen on video there is a number of credible evidence that may lead to confirmation that doesn’t necessarily involve a conversation with with the Suffolk County police officer. in fact most of them are going to be based on evidence that does not involve a conversation with the Suffolk County police officer.
102. I.S. but they end up on your list then as confirmed.
103. Sini: in order for us to make them confirmed we have the check certain boxes. once those boxes are checked there going to be confirmed. it does not require contact with a member of the Suffolk County Police Department. in some cases it will. but it does not require it.
104. I.S:. but when we first started having this conversation about gangs you had said that one of the things that you are also doing is you are sending notices or giving notices to individuals who suspected and putting them on notice that they were going to be surveilled your putting them on notice that you believe…
105. Sini: I was distracted please repeat your question.
106. I.S.: I am asking you about gangs right. you have said that one of the things you are doing was giving out notices… to individuals you suspected were gang members. is that something you are still doing?
107. Sini: You are talking about customs notifications?
108. Sini: I don’t know if we have done any customs notifications with MS 13…
109. I.S. of these that are alleged or confirmed as MS 13, have you given them those notices.
110. Sini: the Commissioner and the chief of detectives division may collaborate on who is appropriate for customs notifications and who is not. there going to be some individuals that get the custom certification. and there will be some folks we are just looking to arrest and get them off the street.
111. I.S.: okay because some of these kids haven’t been arrested is our concern and and I’m wondering if safety is a concern and trying to make sure that these kids aren’t going there that piece hasn’t been done with any of these kids that are ending up with ice that is what I’m saying. they are not being arrested and they are also not getting notifications telling them that they are suspected or that they are being surveilled.
112. Sini: right it may be because some of these people are folks we consider serious criminals and we would rather them just be on off our streets.
113. I.S.:some of these kids I would really like you to meet them.
114. Sini: Again, I’m asking you to give me the list right, because there may be situations where you think we are involved when we are not involved, where its entirely a DHS operation. And to the extent that we are involved, again, I told you i will look at all of the confirmations. we have a robust policy in place but i have no problem accepting a list and having a team review the information you provided.
115. Me: Would it be possible to set something like that up before they put over to ICE custody, so that there is some kind of way to challenge your confirmation? You are willing to review the cases now, so why not be able to review them when you first make that confirmation?
116. Sini: Because the idea is.
117. Me: I guess you can’t have a secret hearing.
118. I.S.: Not that wouldn’t be here in this country.
119. Sini: Alright, so, Search warrants are challenged after they are executed, right? Why? Because they are ex-parte, because we don’t let criminals know that we are going to come search their residences. It’s the same context here.
120. Me: It’s not. Because gang confirmation is not a crime. There’s no procedural way to challenge that confirmation, it’s just unilaterally law enforcement.
121. Sini: There should be, I mean, I’m not…
122. Me: I mean, you are a lawyer, right? You know that the problems with due process. that’s why there is a judiciary. So law enforcement doesn’t abuse peoples’ rights.
123. Sini: And you can use the process on the law on the administrative side.
124. ME: there is no process.
125. Sini: I’m not going to say I am an expert in all of the procedures on the immigration side, I’m not.
126. Me: No, you are not.
127. Sini: But again, this is a law enforcement policy decision that we have a confirmation process in place that we believe in that is based on fbi best practices, when we confirm someone as an active ms13 gang member, we are going to utilize our tools to keep suffolk residents safe
128. Sini: again I’m asking you to give me the list because there may be situations where you think we are involved but we are not involved for its entirely Department of Homeland Security operation and to the extent that we are involved I will again I told you I will look at all the confirmations we have a robust policy in place but I have no problem accepting a list and having a team review the list that you provided
129. Sini: so we will listen and we will I think the best thing to do is get specific cases, promise or representing that there’s going to be anything any policy change. we have a very balanced policy that we think makes a lot of sense we want to do our best to create an environment in which people feel comfortable speaking to a law enforcement officer even if you’re undocumented that is why our police officers are prohibited into immigration status at the same time we have an obligation to ensure public safety in Suffolk County vertically with respect to MS 13 which is a brutally violent gang that plays in immigrant communities. and we have made a policy decision to cooperate with all of our federal partners that includes the department of homeland security. The issue here is are there young people were being falsely labeled as MS 13 by the Suffolk County Police Department because no matter what nothing we can do is going to change. I suspect that when I get this list I suspect that many of them are going to be people who were picked up by ice without collaboration from this scpd. I suspect that is going to be the situation because we are not just labeling people MS 13 and getting the information to ice. we are targeting people who are problems in the community where academics are team members and if I didn’t target them you would be criticizing me for not targeting them. so again get me the list and i will look at the list and I will vet it to make sure that we are not complicit in what you are saying.