Sanctuary City Released Human Rights Violator

And then NYC hit the snooze button on this wake-up call

By Andrew R. Arthur on December 21, 2019

In my last post, I discussed a Liberian amnesty provision that was snuck into section 7611 of the National Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2020. I specifically referenced the case of Liberian human rights violator Charles Cooper, who was removed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to Liberia in June 2018. I left out the part about how the New York Police Department (NYPD) failed to honor an ICE detainer for him, and released him without even notifying the agency. The incident does not reflect well on those who set the rules for New York's finest.

Cooper entered the United States in January 2006 on a nonimmigrant visa, and remained beyond his authorized return date. He was no ordinary visa overstay. According to ICE, Cooper "served as a bodyguard to former Liberian President Charles Taylor and was a member of a paramilitary police unit called the Secret Security Service (SSS)."

ICE continued: "Cooper, while a member of the SSS and the National Patriotic Front of Liberia [NPLF], was directly involved in the persecution of civilians in Liberia." In addition to identifying Cooper as "a human rights violator," the agency asserted that he was "a member of an organization known for setting fires to whole villages."

The aforementioned Charles Taylor is a special case. He was a Liberian civil servant in the 1980s, and was accused of embezzlement. He made his way to the United States, but escaped from prison in Massachusetts where he was being held for extradition, and travelled back to West Africa. He thereafter formed the NPFL, and in 1989 launched attacks against the Liberian government from the Ivory Coast, igniting Liberia's first civil war.

Global Security explains that between December 1989 and the middle of 1993, the NPFL "is estimated to have been responsible for thousands of deliberate killings of civilians. As NPFL forces advanced towards Monrovia in 1990, they targeted people of the Krahn and Mandingo ethnic groups, both of which the NPFL considered supporters of [then-Liberian President Samuel] Doe's government."

Various factions became involved in the conflict, including the NPFL; forces that were loyal to Doe; the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and their Nigerian-led peacekeeping force, ECOMOG; and the breakaway Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL), which was led by Prince Johnson. INPFL captured, mutilated, and killed Doe on September 10, 1990.

The first bloody civil war ended with Taylor's election as president in 1997. According to Britannica, however:

As president, Taylor restructured the army, filling it with members of his former militia. Conflict ensued between Taylor and the opposition, and Monrovia became the scene of widespread gun battles and looting. Governments around the world accused Taylor of supporting rebels in Sierra Leone, and in 2000 the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Liberia. The country was subsequently gripped again by civil war, and Taylor, accused of gross human rights violations, was indicted by a UN-sponsored war-crimes tribunal (the Special Court for Sierra Leone) in 2003.

Following widespread international condemnation, Taylor agreed to go into exile in Nigeria. In March 2006, however, the Liberian government requested Taylor's extradition, and Nigeria announced that it would comply with the order. Taylor subsequently attempted to flee Nigeria but was quickly captured. Charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during Sierra Leone's civil war, he was later sent to The Hague, where he was to be tried before the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Taylor was found guilty in April 2012 on 11 counts "of bearing responsibility for the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by rebel forces during Sierra Leone's civil war", and subsequently sentenced to 50 years in prison.

Back to Cooper. As noted, he entered as a nonimmigrant with permission to remain until August 2006. When he failed to depart, he was placed into removal proceedings. He was ordered removed by an immigration judge and appealed the decision, which was dismissed by the Board of Immigration Appeals in February 2016.

According to ICE:

On Aug. 11, 2017, Cooper was arrested by the New York Police Department, and charged with DWI. On that same date, [ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO)] deportation officers lodged an immigration detainer with the NYPD's Richmond Central Booking. Cooper was released from NYPD custody, without the detainer being honored and without notification to ICE.

Fortunately, in May 2018, ICE deportation officers arrested Cooper in Staten Island, New York, leading to his removal.

As my former colleague Preston Huennekens reported: "In March 2013, New York City began ignoring [ICE] detainer notices." According to ICE, the agency had "not been notified about the release of aliens in custody at New York City facilities since 2014, except for those that fall within the 170 crimes considered egregious by the Mayor's Office." Apparently, human rights violators do not make the cut.

Huennekens noted that in just one three-month period (January to mid-April 2018), the NYPD and the New York Department of Corrections together ignored 440 detainers; "40 of those individuals released from custody subsequently committed more crimes and were arrested again." About this, ICE stated: "In just three months, more than three dozen criminal aliens were released from local custody. Simply put, the politics and rhetoric in this city are putting its own communities at an unnecessary risk."

To restate the obvious: Sanctuary policies, including those that prevent ICE from finding out about the release of dangerous aliens and that require police to ignore ICE detainers, make no sense. They only serve as sanctuary for criminals, or in Cooper's case, human rights violators.

Cooper should have served as a wake-up call to those in power who, for purely political reasons, require the NYPD to turn a blind eye to ICE's requests for help. But instead, as Huennekens' reporting demonstrates, Gotham's officials simply hit the snooze button.