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Last Saturday, just like every Saturday, Donald Leach, a four-decade resident of West Hollywood, went to Gold Coast, a bar on Santa Monica Boulevard, for a weekly social gathering with some other local residents. Like every week, Leach brought a book, which he read as he sipped his drink. But this week, Leach’s afternoon ended in handcuffs, as he was jailed in West Hollywood, and subsequently taken to a federal immigration facility.
Leach, better known to some as “Cowboy”, is a Canadian citizen who has lived in the United States illegally since he first came to West Hollywood in 1971. Now, at age 66, an arrest for public intoxication now places him at risk of deportation. However, friends are now claiming that Leach was arrested under false pretenses, with the charge of public intoxication serving as cover for a small-scale immigration raid.
According to witnesses, Leach was not drunk. Richard Vasquez, who was at the bar with Leach, said Leach had finished one drink and taken a couple of sips from a second when three West Hollywood sheriff’s deputies arrived and asked Leach to step outside. The bartender, who gave his name only as “Smokey”, confirmed this.
Vasquez said he listened to some of the conversation between the deputies and Leach.
“The sheriffs asked where he was from, and he said he came here from Detroit. They asked him questions about how long he had been here. The next thing I knew, he was being arrested. There was no field sobriety test done, and I never heard them ask him about how much he’d had to drink.”
In addition, before the sheriff’s deputies arrived, bartender “Smokey” said he received three anonymous phone calls from someone who asked if “Cowboy” was there.
Lt. Lawrence Delmese, of the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station, said that the deputies probably responded to a call about an outstanding charge against Leach in Canada.
“I don’t know what prompted our investigation,” Delmese said. “Usually, if somebody called and said this guy has a warrant, we may go there and investigate. He was detained by us for drunk in public, but through that investigation, it was determined that he was here without documentation, and other charges might be pending.”
Delmese said that the drunk in public charge had been used in lieu of a federal immigration hold, and would probably be dropped. The ICE could not confirm whether Leach had outstanding warrants in Canada.
Paul Hamel, a friend of Leach, spoke to him while he was detained in West Hollywood. According to Hamel, Leach said he did not know of any charges against him in Canada.
However, Hamel later spoke with Capt. Kelly Fraser, of the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station, who said there was an outstanding warrant for manslaughter for Leach in Canada. The Beverly Press could not reach Fraser to confirm this.
Professor Daria Roithmayr, of the Gould School of Law at the University of Southern California, said the case sounded unusual, but deputies were free to question people about their immigration status.
“Absent being in Arizona, most state officials don’t make it their businesses to enforce immigration law. They don’t seek out people to deport unless it’s in the context of an investigation about something else,” Roithmayr said.
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