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Rape suspect's release reignites debate about immigration enforcement in Mecklenburg County

ICE said they arrested 33-year-old Oscar Pachecho-Leonardo two months after he was released from the Mecklenburg County Jail.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The NBC Charlotte Defenders team is investigating the arrest of a rape suspect that's reigniting a debate about immigration enforcement in Mecklenburg County.  

ICE said they arrested 33-year-old Oscar Pachecho-Leonardo two months after he was released from the Mecklenburg County Jail. 

Last week, the suspect was taken into ICE custody, but the agency said his release put the community in danger.

Since Sheriff Garry McFadden took office, he’s made it clear he will not honor federal detainers. He held a news conference about the latest case late Friday afternoon.  

McFadden gave a very different account of the case than ICE. ICE said they were never notified about the suspect, but McFadden said they were notified. 

However, during the news conference, McFadden would not answer any questions from the media. He deflected criticism about his policy not to honor federal detainers.

The situation comes as Pachecho-Leonardo was released from the jail after being charged with several serious crimes.

“I do not set the bond; that is a magistrate and judge,” Sheriff McFadden said. “My decision that Mecklenburg County will no longer honor voluntary ice administrative detainer is not the sole reason for him being released.”

On June 14, Pachecho-Leonardo was arrested on charges of rape and indecent liberties with a child in Mecklenburg County. Despite those serious charges, ICE said the sheriff’s office refused to honor a detainer and never even notified ICE of the suspect's release two days after his arrest.  

However, McFadden said ICE was contacted about the suspect.

“We were mandated to call ICE and inform them as we did on June 14,” McFadden said.

“At a bare minimum, just pick up the phone call us and notify us that you are releasing this person from custody,” said Bryan Cox, an ICE spokesman.

Jail records showed the suspect was released on a $100,000 bond. ICE said they arrested him in Mecklenburg County on August 9, which was two months after he was released from jail.

“There are clear public safety consequences to that policy,” Cox told NBC Charlotte.

North Carolina House Speak Tim Moore also weighed in during a visit to Charlotte on Friday; his focus was on House Bill 370.

“It’s a bill that makes clear that in instances like what just happened here in Charlotte, the sheriffs of this state must cooperate with immigration customs and enforcement,” North Carolina House Speaker Moore told NBC Charlotte.

ICE said Pachecho-Leonardo was previously deported from the U.S. to Honduras in 2006 and then illegally re-entered the U.S. After the resolution from any potential federal criminal charges, he’s facing removal to Honduras again.

House Speaker Moore told NBC Charlotte H.B. 370 will pass the House next week.

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