SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah-based agent for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been indicted in federal court for assaulting someone in custody.
Jon Martinson Jr. is accused of slamming a man onto a concrete floor face first, according to an indictment filed June 25. Martinson is facing a single count of deprivation of rights under the color of law in connection with the July 3 incident for "willfully depriving him of the rights secured and protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States, to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer."
Tony Yapias, director of Proyecto Latino de Utah, said he knows the alleged victim in the case and said he lost a tooth and suffered a head laceration and long-term psychological damage in the incident. But Yapias applauded the man for standing up for himself and taking on what can be an intimidating system for those who are undocumented.
"The only reason there is a indictment today is because of what the immigrant did. He pushed the system," Yapias said. "This is the first time that the victim in this (kind of) case kind of stood up for his rights as an immigrant to say, 'Hey, wait a minute. That's not right.'"
Yapias said he hears of such incidents more often than might be expected, but the alleged victims rarely report it out of fear or because they're deported before they can pursue their claims. The indictment gave him a sense that there would be justice for the man.
"I hope this is a huge message to all ICE agents. I hope there is some kind of review among themselves," Yapias said. "They have a tough job to do, but it doesn't excuse them from abusing. (These) may be undocumented immigrants, but they're still human beings and should be treated with respect."
Andrew Munoz, public affairs officer for ICE, said the agency does not comment on cases pending before the court.
"U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement holds its employees to the highest standards of professional and personal integrity," according to a statement from the agency. "Mr. Martinson has been suspended without pay pending the outcome of court proceedings."
The U.S. Attorney's Office has clarified in the past that "color of law" means law enforcement officers and other officials who have "been given broad power by local, state and federal government agencies — authority they must have to enforce the law and ensure justice in our country." But officials noted that while these powers are important, it is "equally necessary" to prevent abuse of these powers, which is why it is a federal crime to deprive someone of a right "under the color of law."
The FBI is the lead agency on investigations regarding color of law issues.
Martinson has his first appearance in federal court Wednesday.
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