DPS Officer's Pursuit of DREAMer Lands Woman in Stir for Six Months (w/Update)

It gets even stranger, and more infuriating. In the last minute entry in the case, dated April 17, Judge Dawn Bergin goes over the details of how Zenil ended up in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's gulags for six months.

Almost exactly one year ago, Arizona Department of Public Safety Officer Seth Turken stopped Zenil for turning right on red, where a "no right on red" sign was posted.

Zenil produced the car's registration, but only had her Mexican consulate-issued Matricular card as identification.

Turken questioned Zenil and her passengers. He learned that Zenil worked at the retail clothing store Aeropostale in a local mall. Turken issued Zenil a citation for the illegal right on red and for driving on a suspended license. He asked her for her Social Security Number, and she declined to respond.

"At some point during the encounter," writes Bergin,"[Turken] asked her how she could be working if she had no Social Security Number. Neither Officer Turken nor the defendant could recall her response."

Turken then took two photos of Zenil, "both for identification purposes and for an investigation he planned to conduct regarding the possibility that the defendant had used fraudulent documents to obtain employment."

Earlier, in order to put the other passengers of the car at ease, Turken told them that, "he was not an immigration officer and was just trying to find out what was going on."

But it seems Turken was intending to play immigration cop all along. Later, he and another DPS officer went to Zenil's place of employment to grill her. Ultimately, Turken submitted the case to the MCAO. Zenil was indicted, arrested and went on to spend a half-year in stir.

On reading Bergin's minute entry, it strikes me that DPS officers apparently have a lot of free time on their hands.

I mean, this guy went out of his way to put in jail a 23 year-old girl working retail sales to support her sick mom in Mexico. Doesn't he have some real criminals to chase, some drug dealers or something?

Fortunately, Zenil had a great advocate for her cause in pro-immigrant activist Carmen Cornejo, who has been following her case for some time. And she had some kick-ass legal representation in public defenders Amy Michelle Kalman and Christopher Manberg, who fought the prosecution at every step.

Penalosa also indicated that Zenil may have a civil claim against the county, but that is yet to be determined. First, he has to spring her from ICE custody, which I hope he can do soon. This young woman has suffered enough.

UPDATE 4/25/13 5:10PM: Zenil was taken to Eloy, according to Penalosa, and ICE still has her. But the good news is, Penalosa has been informed by ICE today that the agency will be returning Zenil to Phoenix, where they will release her. Penalosa says he was told ICE had to vet her before letting her go. Zenil could be back home tonight or tomorrow sometime, according to her attorney.

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