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Illegal immigrant to face trial in 2016 death of Florida sheriff’s deputy
Karen Neoh / CCL
An illegal immigrant is finally facing justice for a 2016 attempt to evade police that led to the death of a beloved Florida peace officer.
Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper called it a “tragic day” when 32-year-old Deputy Eric Oliver was killed chasing down a suspect across Florida’s State Road 200 in 2016. “He was just doing his job, and doing it well,” Leeper recalled at the time.
Yet, if his nation’s already robust set of immigration laws were sufficiently enforced, Oliver might have never encountered the twice-deported suspect who led him on that fatal foot chase. Instead, Oliver left behind a then-six-year-old daughter, and the suspect, Francisco Portillo-Fuentes, has been charged this week with aggravated manslaughter of a police officer, felony murder, escape, and resisting arrest without violence.
An El Salvador native, Portillo-Fuentes was transferred from federal prison, where he was serving a maximum two-year sentence for illegally re-entering the U.S., to a Duval County jail where he will remain during his manslaughter trial.
The Florida Highway Patrol is working with the State Attorney’s Office and immigration officials to establish a case against the 26-year old immigrant who illegally crossed the southern U.S. border in November 2011, and again on Sept. 28, 2016.
“We want to make sure that we’re covering all the bases — we’re documenting all the necessary evidence and gaining as much information as possible to conduct a thorough and complete investigation,” FHP Sergeant Dylan Bryan said during the initial phases of the investigation.
At 7:30 a.m. on Nov. 22, 2016, Deputy Oliver and a partner were called to assist Border Patrol agents who were monitoring several people in a vehicle at a local gas station located on State Road 200. As officers approached, Portillo-Fuentes fled on foot, crossing the dangerous highway with Oliver trailing not far behind.
Oliver, a seven-year veteran of the sheriff’s office and a Navy veteran, was struck by an unidentified woman driving an SUV. He was the sixth sheriff deputy killed in the line of duty since the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office was founded in 1827.
Sheriff Leeper had to inform the fallen officer’s family that Oliver would not be coming home that evening. “It’s very tragic, very sad. We told them that he died doing what he loved to do,” he remembered. “He was a good police officer, he worked hard, he dedicated his life to protecting our county, and he’ll certainly be missed.”
Reacting to news of Oliver’s death, Florida Governor Rick Scott released a public statement offering his condolences:
Ann and I are deeply saddened of the by the death of Deputy Eric Oliver and we join all Floridians in mourning this tragic loss. Deputy Oliver was not only a proud member of the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office but also a Navy veteran and a loving father and husband. Our prayers and deepest condolences are with his family. The brave men and women of law enforcement choose to dedicate their lives every day to keep our communities safe and we owe them our sincerest gratitude for all they do. We will forever honor the service, courage and sacrifice of Deputy Oliver and pray that his family and loved ones find peace and healing during this very difficult time.
Sanctuary for criminals
After Oliver was struck, Portillo-Fuentes was able to take advantage of the chaos that followed to avoid capture. However, it didn’t take long for law enforcement to catch up with the wanted man in Jacksonville, Florida, where he was subsequently arrested and charged with illegal re-entry.
At the time of Oliver’s death, Nassau County was considered a “sanctuary county” by the White House for shielding immigrants from deportation, although that designation was officially withdrawn in April 2017 for unspecified reasons. County executive-appointed Sheriff Michael Sposato maintains that the local jail honors deportation orders from federal immigration authorities, insisting, “We were never a sanctuary county.” Since 2014, however, his jurisdiction has required that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents file extensive warrants and provide “probable cause” when seeking to deport prisoners.
During his short time in the U.S., Portillo-Fuentes was no stranger to law enforcement. In addition to being deported twice, he was arrested for drunk driving and other lesser offenses in May 2016.
He is being held without bond and is scheduled to appear in Nassau County court Thursday morning.
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