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Sheriff clarifies policy for detaining illegal immigrants in Athens

Athens, GA — March 7, 2024 — Sheriff John Q. Williams and the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office would respectfully like to offer the family and friends of Laken Riley our sincerest condolences for their profound loss. No one should have their promising life cut short at the hands of another. Our prayers remain with her friends and family.

In light of ongoing speculation about our procedures for processing undocumented arrestees/inmates. We would like to clarify the current policy.

In 2018, the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office reviewed and updated its policy concerning foreign nationals booked into the jail. These updates to the policy were the result of public input, a review of best practices, relevant case law, and input from legal counsel. Based on the totality of circumstances at that time, the policy was changed to decline requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold inmates, known as “detainers,” that are not signed by a judge. The law requires us to notify ICE whenever we book someone either known or suspected to be a foreign national. Our policy reflects that. ICE detainers are requests, not a court order or warrant. Holding a person based solely on an ICE detainer constitutes a warrantless arrest. The policy does allow for detaining if a warrant or court order signed by a judge is issued. Whenever ICE is able to pick up an undocumented person before the time they would have been able to bond out or otherwise be lawfully released, the Sheriff’s Office does not prevent them from doing so. When Sheriff Williams took office in 2021, we maintained this policy.

In the case of murder suspect, Jose Ibarra, he had never been arrested in Athens-Clarke County or the state of Georgia. At no time was Jose Ibarra detained by CCSO before his arrest for the murder of Laken Riley. The Sheriff’s Office’s first contact with him was when he was charged with the murder and he is currently confined and held with no bail.

It is important to note that the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office is not a full-service law enforcement agency. Under Section 4-105 of the Charter of Athens-Clarke County, “[t]he Sheriff shall be responsible for the operation of the jail, the transport of prisoners, the service of process and such other duties being provided on the effective date” of the Charter. Thus, the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office does not typically handle duties such as response to 9-1-1 calls and routine patrols.

This incident did call attention to some record-keeping practices that could be improved to help identify and track our responses to any interactions with subjects determined to be undocumented. The stakes involved are of the highest importance. As a result, we are strengthening our policy and will continue to work to uphold all local, state, and federal laws.

We would like to reaffirm to the people who live, work, and contribute to Athens-Clarke County that we care about your safety and this is our main priority.

Our Office is committed to our mission to serve our community through intentional engagement, access, and transparency. We are dedicated to conducting ourselves in a manner respectful of the trust that has been placed upon us. We strive to actively enforce the laws of our state and to safely operate our detention facilities through progressive, innovative, and humane practices aimed towards rehabilitating those in custody through non-conventional methods and

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Too little too late Q. You are a disgrace to law ENFORCEMENT everywhere.


Wonder why he needed to clarify. The platform he ran on made his position abundantly clear. Good luck with that with the next election.


The Sheriff is useless. He should resign


Paul Bunce
Paul Bunce

Which is a way of pointing out that "It's not my job". And in fact it is not the job of the sheriff's dept. Under U.S. law we are not required to carry ID verifying citizenship unless we wish to vote, apply for a job, or some other actions such as applying for a drivers license in most states. Having noted that I would like to see significant and enforced penalties for hiring or other wise knowingly supporting (consorting with, accessory to) illegals. I've run businesses where my competitors knowingly hire illegals. I have always refused to do so which puts a financial penalty on me. I want to see the employers who hire illegally penalized severely for their c…

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