Man in ICE jacket stirs fear, anger at North Bay Hispanic church

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SAN RAFAEL (KTVU)  A man wearing a jacket that resembled one worn by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents caused a stir at a church that ministers to the Hispanic community earlier this month, San Rafael police said.

The man, whose identity was confirmed by tracing the license plate on his vehicle, has been suspended from his job as a manager at San Francisco International Airport. Authorities said he was driving a city-issued vehicle when an undocumented handyman videotaped his visit to the church.

When police visited him at his home near the church, he said he was unhappy with the noise created by the weekly service, and was videotaping it to document his complaint.

"He said he had prior unresolved issues with the church about noise," San Rafael police Sgt. Raul Aguilar said. "But when we asked further questions about the reasons for the jacket, he wasn't able to explain."

The June 4 incident got the attention of the Canal Community Alliance and Congressman Jared Huffman's office. Police contacted ICE and the FBI and learned the man was not employed by either law enforcement organization.

"Dressing up as an ICE agent, I don't see any way to intimidate a community more," said Lucia Martel-Dow, director of Immigration Legal Services with Canal Community Alliance. "ICE has said directly that they're not involved."

The man allegedly took pictures on a cell phone in the church parking lot and videotaped the people inside of the church, police Lt. Raffaello Pata said. His jacket had ICE written on it and an official looking emblem or seal on the back, Pata said.

On Friday police identified the man, who lives near the church. The man said he had prior unresolved complaints about amplified noise from the church services and went there to document it. He could not readily explain why he wore the ICE jacket he recently purchased online, Pata said.

Detectives learned the jacket is a novelty item but there are concerns that it looks very similar to the item worn by actual ICE agents. The man did not violate any state or federal laws, but police are referring the case to the Marin County District Attorney's Office for review, Pata said.

eBay and Amazon have several listings of mock uniforms that can be purchased and they are viritually indistinguishable from the real thing.

Since the man did not speak to anyone or show a badge, he was not arrested. However, the Marin County District Attorney can still consider charges.

"This person was intentionally impersonating a federal agent," Omar Carrera, executive director of Canal Alliance said. "He should be charged, because his intent was to terrorize familes who were congregating to practice their faith."

Other neighbors of the church said they could not endorse the stunt, but added that the sounds from the Spanish-language service can be intrusive.

"It's very loud and the minister works the crowd," resident Winscott Stokes said. "They're happy (and) they get the spirit, but I guess one person had enough and was desperate."

Critics say amid heightened risk of deportation, the man was clearly trying to scare people away from the church.

"Why else would you wear a Department of Homeland Security jacket in this environment?" Martel-Down said. "Without knowing his intentions, I know the consequences are fear and distrust."

ICE, as a matter of policy, does not carry out enforcement actions at what it calls "sensitive locations", such as churches, funerals, and weddings.

San Rafael's immigrant community has been reassured of that, and encouraged to report any further acts of harrassment so they can be investigated.

KTVU reporter Debora Villalon and Bay City News contributed to this report.