Fort Worth police issued a pre-emptive strike Thursday against two of their officers, who apparently will appear on the 10 p.m. news criticizing the way Immigration and Customs Enforcement handled a human trafficking investigation.
The department posted a message on its media portal Thursday afternoon that initially confused the Star-Telegram -- until we saw the CBS-11 promo.
Two officers, the promo said, "were seeking justice for a sex slave."
An ad on the station's website refers to a "Botched case of kidnapped mom"
Here's the full statement from Fort Worth police:
Tonight, a news organization is airing a feature on Human Trafficking. At the request of the producer we approved an interview to take place with two former Human Trafficking police officers with an understanding that the interview would focus on the facts of a specific case. During this interview the two officers provided their opinion regarding the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency on the handling of the case.
The opinions expressed are not the opinions of the City of Fort Worth or the Fort Worth Police Department. Prior to this interview one of the two officers expressed his displeasure with being reassigned to patrol in an article published by an association news letter. It was the decision of command staff after a recommendation from the ICE Human Trafficking Task Force to transfer both officers out of the task force and replace them with a qualified detective with the knowledge and rank to file cases within either the federal system or state or both. This was an operational decision however it generated much criticism by the two officers who were obviously upset regarding the decision.
Police said they believe this matter is closed and will not be providing additional statements or interviews.
UPDATE: The "article published by an association news letter" appears to refer to an item published by officer Daniel Meza in the second quarter 2011 edition of "Signal 50," the Fort Worth Police Officers Association magazine.
In the article, Meza describes being a member of a team of human trafficking investigators operating under a federal Department of Justice grant starting in 2006. He appears to imply that Fort Worth police misused the DOJ grant and transferred him to patrol when he complained.
According to Channel 11, a woman was beaten, abused, humiliated and taken from her family in her native country of Honduras. The man also cut his name into her stomach – a brand to show everyone he owned her, Channel 11 reported.
As a friend called for help, she fled from her captor, hid in the classroom of an old school building in Cleburne and waited for Fort Worth police officers Danny Meza and Gabe Barrera to come get her, the station reported.
The officers, who are trained as investigators of human-trafficking crimes, said they took her to a safe house. In October 2009, she was still not out of harm’s way.
The officers said they worked to save the woman, only to see their case evaporate when they turned to the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency in Dallas to pursue federal human-trafficking charges against their suspect.
"They didn’t believe her story and wouldn’t certify her as a trafficking victim," Barrera told Channel 11.
Meza and Barrera said ICE’s decision not to officially certify the woman as a trafficking victim resulted in the federal case falling apart. Instead, the man was jailed as an illegal immigrant and, subsequently, deported back to the Honduras.
The woman left Dallas and moved to another part of the country. The man re-entered the country last October and tracked his victim down, the station said. But this time, ICE agents in another part of the country acted immediately, arresting the man and providing protection for the woman, the station said.
The man is again jailed for being in this country illegally, while authorities work to see if they can gather enough evidence to file federal trafficking charges against him.
-- Marty Sabota, Kathy Vetter and Mitch Mitchell