Breach of town ‘trust policy’ disputed after ICE arrest of immigrantMore Info
Great Barrington — The arrest of an undocumented immigrant worker on Main Street last week has prompted allegations that the Great Barrington Police Department has violated a town policy limiting cooperation with federal authorities on enforcing civil immigration law.
Town resident and activist John Breasted made the allegation at a selectboard meeting Monday night in the wake of the disclosure last week in The Edge that officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement had asked the town police to retrieve the detainee’s medication from his apartment after the detention had been executed.
Breasted raised questions about the propriety of the actions of the Great Barrington Police Department after ICE agents entered the police station at approximately 7:30 a.m. on Jan. 8 and asked for assistance in obtaining the medications for Alexis Gkoles, who was arrested by ICE agents as he was walking to Patisserie Lenox, where he worked as a chef.
Breasted read from the so-called “trust policy,” which stipulates that the town will not enforce federal immigration law or aid in the detention, transfer, transport or deportation of residents for civil immigration purposes. Click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to read the full text of the policy.
“There are some complex political, economic and legal issues related to the incident reported in the newspapers,” said Breasted, who urged the selectmen to place the matter on the agenda at their next meeting. “This is something that can’t be handled as a routine administrative matter.”
See video below of an exchange between John Breasted and Great Barrington Police Chief Bill Walsh:
Breasted further argued that the text of the trust policy put the matter of addressing violations of the trust policy squarely “in the lap of the selectboard.” But Selectman Ed Abrahams defended Walsh and his officers.
“Just to let you know, the police were not involved in the arrest,” said Abrahams, who offered to read from the policy. “Our trust policy was followed completely.”
Selectboard Chairman Steve Bannon asked Great Barrington Police Chief Bill Walsh if he wanted to address the matter directly. “I’ve got a lot to say,” Walsh replied as he strode to the podium.
Walsh said his department “played a minimal role in this operation,” that he reported it to his boss, Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin, the next day and that he responded to media inquiries on the incident. Indeed, when contacted by The Edge last week, Walsh provided the police log associated with the incident.
“We got a request from ICE agents around 7:30 that morning,” Walsh explained. “They came into the station and asked us to go and retrieve the bad guy’s — the suspect’s — medicine in his apartment on Main Street.”
Walsh described his department’s cooperation as “a humanitarian effort.” ICE told him it might alarm Gkoles’ neighbors if federal agents in black SUVs, clad in flak jackets and ICE vests, had descended on Gkoles’ apartment.
So ICE asked the local police, whose officers might even know some of the residents, to retrieve Gkoles’ medication. Walsh noted a presumed irony in those who have criticized his department for its role in the incident:
“If we didn’t do that, I think I would be hearing from some people that we’re bad and mean if we didn’t get the bad guy’s medicine for him.”
Breasted could be seen shaking his head during that exchange. When he told Walsh his comments were “inappropriate,” Breasted got an earful from the chief.
“No, it’s not, and don’t interrupt me, because I did not interrupt you,” Walsh shouted. “The chairman is running the meeting. And don’t cut me off because you always do that.”
Walsh said he was in Town Hall to “denounce sexual assault, denounce domestic violence and applaud and laud the victim in this case. I haven’t heard that from certain quarters, but I’ve heard the police got the bad guy’s medicine, that that’s a terrible thing we did.”
Indeed, the Berkshire County district attorney’s office has confirmed to The Edge that Gkoles was arraigned in Superior Court on Nov. 15, 2018, and charged with one count of rape alleged to have occurred in December 2017. Gkoles pleaded not guilty and was released on his own recognizance with the condition that he have no contact with the victim.
“Gkoles was a dual citizen of Albania and Greece,” said Dennis Yusko, who recently became communications director for District Attorney Andrea Harrington. “He was in the U.S. on a visa waiver program that had long since expired.”
Gkoles is presumably still in the custody of federal authorities but a message left for an ICE spokesperson yielded the following reply:
“So I’m here to applaud the victim who came forward with the courage to report it to the police with a statement, working with us for prosecution,” Walsh said of the rape charge. “And I would hope other folks would also join me in denouncing sexual assault.”
Will Curlietti, who owns the popular Fuel coffee shop, told The Edge that, in front of his shop on the morning of Jan. 8, he saw a pair of black SUVs and two officers—one plain-clothed woman and a man wearing an ICE vest. The man handcuffed Gkoles, put him into a SUV and took him away. The event, which alarmed some of those who witnessed it, was over within a couple of minutes. That’s when ICE asked the Great Barrington Police Department for assistance with the medication.
Bannon said he would decide later in the week whether to place the matter on the agenda for the next selectboard meeting Monday, Jan. 28, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.