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Immigration raid goes to court

Star witness to take hot seat in pretrial hearing for Feb. 5 arrests at L&M Optical West

Posted: February 20, 2009 1:01 a.m.
Updated: February 20, 2009 4:55 a.m.

A deputy public defender plans to put the district attorney's star witness on the hot seat in Santa Clarita Superior Court today for the start of the L&M Optical West raid pretrial hearings.

"Rosa Gutierrez is the district attorney's key witness. And I want to tell her she needs to be advised she needs counsel," said Christina Behle, Los Angeles County public defender. "Rosa is potentially facing prison time."

Gutierrez is a manager at L&M Optical West in Valencia.

Santa Clarita Valley sheriff's deputies raided L&M on Feb. 5 after receiving tips that the company's employees used fake Social Security numbers and alien resident cards to gain employment, Det. Steve Low said.

Nineteen of the fake Social Security numbers came from people who live in Santa Clarita. Deputies are still investigating whether L&M Optical West played a role in the fraud, Low said.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office charged 54 people with crimes, including identity theft, false documentation and false personation for using the Social Security numbers and fake alien resident cards.

More than 20 suspects will be in court today for pre-trial hearings.

Today's proceeding might reveal key elements of what happened during the Feb. 5 raid, a suspect said.

The suspect's name is withheld because she is a material witness in the trial. The sheriff's didn't read the defendants their Miranda rights warning during an interrogation that lasted more than six hours, according to the unnamed defendant.

The suspects were denied food and water, use of their cell phones and a sign was posted telling the suspects they could not leave, the source said. Deputies forced suspects to use the bathroom with the door open, the unnamed defendant said.

The suspects were detained for several hours without being read their rights, which is within California law, said Sgt. James Anderson of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station.

"They were properly not read their Miranda rights," Anderson said.

He declined to comment on when a suspect's Miranda rights must be read.

"I don't want to discuss this. It was done appropriately," he said.

Behle disagreed.

"After reviewing all the reports of all of my clients I never saw the word Miranda in any of their reports," Behle said. "They absolutely should have had their rights read to them under the circumstances."

The law states a officer must read a person their Miranda rights prior to questioning, Behle said.

She didn't comment on whether she will seek a motion to suppress, but said the evidence could be suppressed due to the deputies' miscue.

The case is drawing attention in the civil rights and international communities.

The Mexican Consulate issued a statement in Spanish challenging the legality of the arrests made in the raid and whether the suspects' civil rights were violated.

"We are offering legal assistance to the Mexicans arrested in the raid," said Mireya Magana Galvez, consulate spokeswoman.

"The ACLU contacted me and said they are interested in the case," Behle said.

She declined to comment on her conversation with the ACLU.

The ACLU did not return phone calls by deadline.

The consulate will work with the public defender to defend 44 of the 54 suspects, according to the statement.

The consulate declined further comment on the case.

The pretrial hearing begins at 8:30 a.m. in Department 1.


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