When vehicles from the Pima County Sheriff's Department and U.S. Border Patrol parked in front of Summit View Elementary School at the end of the school day on May 10, it sent waves of fear and panic through the nearby, mostly Spanish-speaking wildcat neighborhood off of Old Nogales Highway.
Neighborhood activists say this is to be expected in Arizona post-SB 1070. Meanwhile, almost six months later, neighborhood requests to meet with a sheriff's department representative continue to be ignored.
The Summit Committee neighborhood organization has been working for the past six months with advocates at the Border Action Network to have a sheriff's department rep meet with them. However, nobody from the department showed up at the first meeting in July, or at two meetings held in October.
According to Jaime Farrant, the Border Action Network policy director, a letter was sent to Sheriff Clarence Dupnik on July 15 requesting a meeting at Iglesia de Dios, a small neighborhood church directly across from the school on East Summit Street.
"The meeting is called in response to an incident occurring last May 10th, in which Pima County sheriff's deputies called Border Patrol agents in response to alleged traffic violations committed by parents who were picking their children up at the Summit school. The incident has caused tremendous concern and fear amongst residents of the old Nogales Highway area and parents of Summit (View) Elementary School children," Farrant wrote to Dupnik.
Farrant reminded Dupnik in the letter that the sheriff has said in the past that community members must "have the trust and confidence in local law enforcement. An action such as this one, combined with the current climate, could lead to a great erosion of the trust between community and police."
At the community meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 5, Summit Committee members took turns reiterating what happened that morning; several were still visibly shaken by the experience. Summit Committee members said they were afraid to provide their names to the Tucson Weekly or allow their photos to be taken, so Farrant recounted the events that took place on May 10.
"Why the community was surprised and scared is that they've never seen it before, this kind of setup in front of the school," Farrant told the Weekly. "What concerned them was (the sheriff's department) pretty much stopping everyone passing by."
One person stopped did have an arrest warrant out for an aggravated DUI. Farrant says nobody has issues with that neighbor's arrest, except that the man's child had to watch as the father was handcuffed and paraded in front of the school. The child had no idea what was happening and was scared, Farrant says; he's since had to see a counselor.
Another person was apprehended—and the Border Patrol was called in regarding this person's legal status.
"That's when the children got more scared, and parents got scared. No one had a clue what happened. The principal went to talk to a deputy and was told it was a traffic-enforcement operation. She saw how people were just terrified," Farrant says. "I think any parent, when you come to pick up your kids from school, and you see eight to 10 police officers there, you are going to assume the worst."
Farrant says he asked the Pima County Sheriff's Department what was going on that day and was told it was part of the BUS program. BUS stands for Beware Undercover Sheriff; Farrant looked up the program online and discovered that it's a program where an undercover deputy is put inside of a school bus to help track drivers who speed past buses.
"But what happened that day in the Summit community—according to all accounts—is completely different. There was no bus involved. The officers were in uniform, and they set a traffic roadblock in front of the school and put about 10 police officers in front of the school entrance," Farrant says.
Farrant says the school's principal, Valerie Lopez-Miranda, told Summit Committee members that she had no idea that the sheriff's department would be there that day. Lopez-Miranda did not return calls from the Weekly as of our deadline.
Farrant says that when he called the sheriff's department to find out why a representative didn't show up to the meetings, he was transferred to Lt. Lisa Sacco in internal affairs, who told him that neighbors should file a complaint with her department.
"No one was interested in filing a complaint; we just wanted to know why," Farrant says.
Sacco confirmed that she did recommend neighbors file complaints if they had problems with what happened that day, which she says was part of a routine traffic-enforcement program done at 57 school zones throughout the year. She then recommended we talk to Sgt. Michael Grider, who is in charge of the traffic-enforcement program.
Grider told the Weekly that he is surprised at the neighborhood reaction. The traffic-enforcement program's intention is to help with traffic issues, like people parking in no-parking areas near school zones, and finding people who speed through school zones, Grider says. This past school year, there were eight DUI arrests made in school zones as part of the program.
"Pickup and drop-off is a dangerous time for kids at schools," Grider says. "I don't understand why parents and children were scared."
Jennifer Allen, the Border Action Network's executive director, says more than a year ago, neighbors met with a sheriff's rep and were told that if the neighbors ever wanted to meet with someone, they just needed to call. "He told the community that they were interested in a good working relationship based on trust, not fear.
"When a concern arises, we were led to believe someone would be there, but then no one comes, and they tell us to present it in writing," Allen says. "But this is a community issue. When kids are crying, and people are scared, it is about livability in their neighborhood."
Farrant says that because of SB 1070, he has spent a lot of time teaching neighbors in the Summit community about their rights, but people remain scared and worried.
"I'm personally surprised. This is not a hard request, at the very least," Farrant says. "I am disappointed that (a sheriff's department representative) isn't willing to meet with these neighbors."