BASTROP COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Bastrop County Sheriff Maurice Cook is facing criticism for a traffic enforcement sting that an interfaith group says “targeted immigrants and Hispanics.”
During an interview with KLBJ News Radio, Cook explained his office conducted a traffic operation in a specific part of the county on Saturday, June 23, because community leaders had requested a larger police presence.
“We did talk about the desire to increase presence in these rural areas but how that could have been taken to be an excuse for this kind of targeting of people and then having them deported is incomprehensible to me,” said Edie Clark, a leader for Bastrop Interfaith.
Out of 63 people stopped, Cook said 24 people were arrested and out of those 13 ended up in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Bastrop Interfaith said the deputies were concentrated around the Stony Point neighborhood, which is off of Pearce Lane in the Del Valle area. The nonprofit group says the neighborhood is predominantly Hispanic.
“We didn’t stake anything out,” said Cook. “We were moving around Stony Point, around FM 535 and FM 812 and we were moving all down through that area and down Wolf Lane.”
Out of the 63 drivers they stopped for a variety of traffic violations, approximately 40 drivers were given warnings. Cook explained eight people were arrested for not having a driver’s licenses as part of their “zero tolerance” initiative.
“As you know, we just can’t go arrest folks, or stop folks, or ticket folks unless they do something wrong. So we were working the traffic lanes on that part of the county,” Cook explained.
During the interview with KLBJ, Cook said they also arrested several DWI cases as well as someone who had a warrant out for their arrest. “Now that sounds like a good’s night work to me,” Cook added.
Bastrop Interfaith says the sheriff’s actions have “polarized our community, and jeopardizes public safety and trust between local officers and residents.”
“It’s causing fear,” said Clark. “It’s causing people to be afraid of reporting a crime.”
Cook said he is not apologizing for enforcing the law, saying, “The operation was for public safety reasons.” He said his deputies could not have known the driver’s citizenship when they pulled them over during the traffic enforcement.
“If they have no driver’s license, they’ll ask questions to decide whether to issue a citation or not. If they can’t verify where they’re living, they were not going to issue a citation, those people were arrested and brought to the county jail. At the county jail, the names are all run through ICE and ICE will determine if those people need an ICE detainer,” Cook explained.
This weekend, Bastrop Interfaith will be meeting with the community. They say they plan to request another meeting with Cook, after meeting with him just three weeks ago. They say the goal is to build back “trust between the community and law enforcement, including immigrant communities.”
State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez also released a statement regarding the operation:
I am deeply disturbed by reports about the Bastrop County Sheriff’s Office’s ‘zero tolerance’ traffic enforcement operation in Del Valle last weekend.
I have several questions for the BCSO. Which civic leaders asked for greater police presence in the community? If this exchange happened, who decided that the ‘zero tolerance’ operation was appropriate? How many individuals were asked questions regarding their immigration statuses and how were they treated afterward? What charges were brought against those who were arrested and did they have prior criminal histories? Was ICE notified of the operation beforehand?
This operation may well be exactly the kind of law enforcement activity that I feared would occur under SB 4. The limited facts available suggest a clear-cut case of racial profiling and organized immigration enforcement in cooperation with federal authorities. The BCSO may have caused long-term damage to its relationship with the community and seriously threatened public safety in a single evening.
Immigration enforcement remains the federal government’s responsibility. As policy chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, I will continue working to ensure that SB 4-related incidents like this one do not pass unnoticed.