Recent law enforcement activity in Mancos has led some residents to raise concerns that the Marshal’s Office has been unfairly targeting local residents based on race or immigration status.
Around two dozen people showed up to a Mancos Town Board meeting last week, and four of the five public speakers voiced concerns about the Marshal’s Office, in light of two recent arrests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
Gretchen Groenke asked that town officials review the behavior of the Marshal’s Office and discuss their relationship with immigration officials.
“What is the relationship the town wants to have with immigration, and what is the town’s stance on utilizing local resources to enforce federal law?” she asked. She cited legislation signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis that limits collaboration with ICE.
In an email to The Journal after the meeting, Mancos Marshal Justen Goodall said his office cannot stop federal agents from “conducting business” in town but has asked to be notified when they will be present.
“The Marshal’s Office has asked any Agency to inform the Office they will be working in the town,” he said. “This is so we can ensure we are present to answer any questions any resident may have.”
ICE detained two men in Mancos in May. Both had lived in Mancos for several years and had been working at Chavolo’s Mexican Restaurant.
According to Jona Navarro, a friend and coworker of the men, the first incident happened May 9, when ICE officials pulled over Carlos Rodriguez near the Columbine Bar on Grand Avenue. The second detention occurred the morning of May 13, when Gerardo Rojas was pulled over at P&D Grocery.
Speakers at the meeting were concerned about the Marshal’s Office’s role in the arrests.
Suzanne Strazza said her understanding is that there are clear-cut lines between the roles of local law enforcement and federal agents.
“My question for the board is, Are those lines being blurred?” Strazza asked.
In his email, Goodall said that his office did not assist ICE agents.
“The Marshal’s Office was present during the ICE detentions,” he said. “The Marshal’s Office does not assist other than ensuring the subject being detained is safe and any other Town resident is safe as well.”
The speakers at the meeting, however, worried the Marshal’s Office has been involved in other instances of profiling.
Chavolo Ortiz, a seven-year Mancos resident who owns Chavolo’s Mexican Restaurant, said he has felt harassed by the Marshal’s Office. Recently, he said, he has encountered the marshal’s car parked outside his home at random hours, and there have been “spotlights” pointed at his home.
“I feel because I’m brown, they follow me or they open this investigation,” Ortiz said.
He added that the feeling of surveillance was impacting his sense of security in town.
“I don’t feel safe at this point,” he said. “I don’t feel like if I’m in an emergency or something, I’m going to call the marshal.”
Goodall denied in his email that Ortiz was being followed.
“Mr. Ortiz is not being followed or having a light shined on his residence,” he said. “This would be unprofessional and will not be tolerated by this Office. The Marshal’s Office has been (patrolling) at night with scene light to deter crimes at night since the end of February of this year.
“This has shown to be an effective method of deterring crime and will continue to be used,” he added. “I feel it is a misunderstanding with residents due to the recent ICE detentions in Town.”
Mayor Pro Tem Fred Brooks told attendees that trustees are not permitted to respond to comments in the moment, but thanked them for coming forward. Mayor Queenie Barz and board member Craig Benally were absent from the meeting.
The board did bring up the concerns at the end of the meeting, although most of the crowd had left.
Trustee Cindy Simpson asked Goodall and Town Administrator Heather Alvarez whether any of the speakers had approached them.
“I have a feeling that there’s a really big gap in our town, where they’re just coming to us, when they should be coming to you,” Simpson said.
She added, though, that all residents needed to feel safe in town.
“There were a couple people here who don’t feel safe in our town, and I don’t think that’s OK,” Simpson said.
Goodall said he has responded to the four people who had reached out to him, but only one wanted to speak with him in person. He is planning to hold a town hall in July. “To put to bed a lot of the rumors that are going around,” he said.