REP. BROWN-WAITE CALLS FOR FEDERAL INVESTIGATION OF EVENTS SURROUNDING THE RECENT HORRIFIC ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT CRIME SPREE, blared the news release out of congresswoman Ginny Brown-Waite's office.
That's quite the tabloid headline, when you can pair the dreaded politically charged "illegal immigrant" with "crime spree."
We'll get to the politics part. But what happened was, indeed, "horrific."
Three people, one of them a 13-year-old, are charged with kidnapping two women in Apollo Beach and raping them. They are suspected or charged in other violent crimes as well.
But even before that arrest, one of them, an unemployed welder named Rigoberto Moron Martinez, was a suspect in a St. Petersburg rape and robbery at a restaurant where he had worked.
Police had tailed Martinez and had him picked up on an unrelated misdemeanor warrant in Hillsborough County, where they got his DNA. Martinez quickly bonded out of jail. Less than two weeks later, detectives say, he took part in the attack in Apollo Beach.
Which, beyond the posturing, politics and pointing of fingers to follow, leaves serious and legitimate questions.
After last week's arrests came a tangle of who did and didn't do what. Local authorities say they notified Immigration and Customs Enforcement about Martinez, whose ex-girlfriend said in a Times interview that he walked across the border from Mexico 11 years ago.
It was unlikely, though, that ICE would detain him when he faced only a misdemeanor.
St. Petersburg police say they told Hillsborough detectives he was a rape suspect. Hillsborough officials said they knew only that he was a suspect in a criminal case.
As for the Republican and, by the way, up-for-re-election representative from Brooksville, she was full of fiery accusation, evidenced by her 10-point questionnaire to the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office on handling immigrants. All that was missing was video footage of the sheriff himself holding open a cell door to send crazed foreigners spilling out onto our streets.
Sheriff David Gee, whose office has taken its licks of late (notably in the case of an inmate dumped from a wheelchair by a jail deputy) rightly fired back. "I'm always annoyed when somebody in Congress wakes up and realizes a problem we have realized over the last 10 years," the sheriff said.
He called it a cheap shot that does nothing to resolve the real issues they see at the jail every day. Such as: 10 percent of the jail's inmates are potentially illegal immigrants, with no local federal facilities to hold them. Of 12,000 names they sent to ICE in the past year, only 500 to 600 inmates were detained.
Nobody, nobody wants a suspect in a brutal crime to get the chance to do it again. Serious questions about communication and protocol are in order.
But figuring out where the system blew it isn't the same as scoring headlines.
The sister of one of the women in the Apollo Beach case told the Times' Richard Danielson that the confrontation between the congresswoman and the sheriff was a potential distraction from justice. "This guy needs to be put on trial, and he needs to have a fair trial, even though he's not a citizen," she said. "… Let's give him a trial and let's punish him to the full extent of the law, and let's put him away."
The victims deserve no less, sans pandering and politics.