A Hall County judge declined Friday to throw out the arrest of an illegal immigrant jailed for fishing without a license, and a decision by the court to eliminate his bond may hasten his deportation back to Honduras.
Josue Marcelo Castro, 26, likely will be deported by federal customs officials in the next four to six weeks, his attorney, Arturo Corso, said following Friday’s hearing in Hall County State Court.
Castro challenged the legality of his May 25 arrest by officers with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources on a charge of fishing without license, which he contended should have resulted in a citation and not a trip to jail.
Because he is in the country illegally, Castro was subject to an immigration hold in jail under the terms of the 287(g) program, a local-federal initiative operated by the Hall County Sheriff’s Office.
During a three-hour court hearing Friday, Chief Judge Charles Wynne heard testimony from two DNR officers and a Hall County Sheriff’s deputy regarding the circumstances of Castro’s arrest. He also viewed a portion of the encounter that was recorded on video by a DNR officer.
DNR Ranger First Class Mitchell Crump testified he and another officer were on boat patrol on Lake Lanier when he spotted with his binoculars four people fishing near Browns Bridge.
Castro, he said, grabbed up his equipment and went back to the parking lot when he saw the DNR boat.
When Crump caught up with Castro in the parking lot, he was placing a fishing rod in the trunk of a car, the officer testified.
During questioning, Castro “said he was not fishing,” Crump testified. “I said I already saw him fishing, and I didn’t want him to lie to me.”
On the video, Crump can be heard telling Castro, “Either we start talking and we start figuring this out, or you’re going to jail. I don’t like people lying to me.”
When asked, Castro could not provide a fishing license and gave the officer a photo identification that had been made by his church.
Crump said he told Castro he “needed to see what he had in the trunk” and Castro opened the trunk, where he found a rod and reel, a tackle box and a cooler containing a fish. A fishing rod was found abandoned on the bank where Castro was seen, along with a box of crickets and other bait.
In the video, Crump is heard discussing with his supervisor, DNR Sgt. Lee Brown, what to do.
Brown is heard in the video saying, “It’s up to you — he doesn’t have identification, he don’t speak good English, he doesn’t have a fishing license and he’s catching a fish.”
Crump, who made the decision to arrest Castro rather than release him on a citation, told Corso under cross-examination that Castro’s ability to speak English was not a factor in his decision.
Assistant Solicitor Jennifer Hendee was more direct in her follow-up questioning of the officer.
“Ranger Crump, are you a racist?”
“No, ma’am,” he responded.
“Did you approach Mr. Castro as the result of any racial profiling?” the prosecutor asked the ranger.
“No ma’am,” he responded.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge ruled that the DNR was within its power to arrest Castro after he was seen fishing and could not provide a fishing license or a valid government-issued identification. He reserved ruling on whether the search of Castro’s trunk was lawful.
The judge also granted a request by state prosecutors to lower Castro’s bond from $300 to an “own recognizance” bond, which meant he could be released immediately after spending 18 days in jail on the minor charge.
Castro’s attorney objected to lowering the bond, because once Castro was no longer in the custody of the sheriff’s office, he would be turned over to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency for deportation proceedings.
Corso predicted his client will be taken to a immigration detention center, possibly the North Georgia Detention Center located in midtown Gainesville, in the next few days.
“Unfortunately, we’ve fallen into a dead zone,” Corso said. “This means we’ll never get to have a trial on the fishing without a license case, and probably never get to have a habeas hearing (claiming unlawful detention).”
Corso said Castro’s wife, a U.S. citizen, was “obviously devastated” by the outcome of the hearing.
“We were very hopeful the judge would dismiss these charges against him and the sheriff would ultimately release him, but it doesn’t appear that’s going to happen,” Corso said.
According to the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, ICE officials had considered releasing Castro on an immigration bond until learning he had been caught trying to enter the United States illegally in 2005.