Fishing arrest faces legal challenge

Honduran man caught at Lake Lanier without license now may be deported
By Stephen Gurr

An attorney has mounted a legal challenge of arrest procedures after a Honduran national was booked into the Hall County jail for fishing without a license and likely faces deportation as a result.

Arturo Corso says authorities had no reason to detain his client, 26-year-old Josue Marcelo Castro, and take him to jail after he was found fishing at the banks of Lake Lanier at Little Hall Park on May 25.

An official with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said it was within an officer’s discretion to either give a warning, write a ticket or make an arrest.

The last time illegal immigrants in Hall County were arrested for fishing without a license, it caused a stir among some activists. Five Mexican nationals were arrested at Lake Lanier by a DNR officer in April 2008 and were deported shortly afterward under a local-federal program known as 287(g).

The program allows sheriff’s deputies to begin deportation proceedings for anyone brought to the Hall County jail who is determined to be in the country illegally.

Corso says the offense of fishing without a license should result in a ticket, not land a person in jail.

“Two years ago when this happened, I thought we had this dealt with and that they were not going to arrest people for fishing without a license,” Corso said. “To see it happen again means this hasn’t been dealt with. The sad part is no Anglo person would ever be arrested for fishing without a license.”

Georgia Department of Natural Resources Capt. Rick Godfrey said his officers do not target people for their race or ethnicity and do not concern themselves with a person’s immigration status or the 287(g) program, which is administered by the sheriff’s office.

“Absolutely not,” Godfrey said.

Godfrey said officers use their discretion based on the circumstances.

“In a situation where they can’t produce a valid ID, a lot of times they’ll just have them post a bond (at the jail),” Godfrey said. The practice ensures that the person will pay the fine, he said.

Godfrey said while he was not familiar with the details of the recent arrest, he said “the majority of circumstances (involving an arrest) would be when a person would appear to try to deceive the officer. He would be one who would have to post bond.”

Corso said Castro provided the officer with an identification card made by a local church, and his wife, a U.S. citizen, later arrived to show her Georgia driver’s license with their address.

Corso claims the DNR officer was ready to release Castro on a citation when a Hall County Sheriff’s deputy showed up and insisted he be taken to jail.

Hall County Sheriff’s Col. Jeff Strickland said that was not the case. Strickland said a deputy was called to the scene by the DNR to transport an arrestee, a common practice since many DNR vehicles can’t hold prisoners.

“At jail he was checked for immigration status and he was determined to be an illegal alien,” Strickland said.

The federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency then placed an immigration hold on Castro, meaning he could not be released from jail even if he posted bail.

Strickland said ICE officials considered releasing the hold until they learned Castro had previously had a run-in with the agency.
“He had entered the country illegally in 2005 and been deported, and so this was a re-entry and the second time he had dealings with ICE,” Strickland said.

In a legal filing known as a petition for writ of habeas corpus, Corso wrote that his client’s arrest “for these petty offenses are violations of the wildlife violator policy compact.”

The compact generally recognizes that most hunting and fishing violations can be handled with a written citation, Corso said.

“The officer’s decision to arrest the petitioner and hold him until he could post a bond is a violation of the law,” Corso wrote.

Corso acknowledged that there are exceptions — if a person can’t be properly identified or is refusing to come to court later to answer to the citation.

Godfrey noted that the DNR writes far more tickets than makes arrests. He said last weekend local DNR officers wrote seven citations for fishing without a license for people who appeared to be of Latino ethnicity. None were arrested.

Corso said a court hearing has not yet been scheduled for his petition. He said his client “has now been sitting in jail for 10 days on this fishing charge.”

“What does it cost Hall County taxpayers to house and feed this man for 10 days?” Corso said. “I think the expression is, ‘a penny wise and a pound foolish.’”

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