The Mexican man accused of five murders this week avoided deportation despite encounters with police and at least one notification that federal immigration officials didn’t pursue in time.
Wyandotte County officials confirmed Wednesday that after a domestic violence arrest last year, federal immigration officials apparently missed an opportunity to ensure the detention of Pablo Serrano-Vitorino, now accused of killing four people in Kansas City, Kan., and one in Montgomery County, Mo.
A spokeswoman for the Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Office said that after Serrano-Vitorino was arrested in June he said he was born in Mexico. Officials then followed the procedure for any foreign-born person booked into the jail and sent a notice to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The sheriff’s office said its records show that ICE agents did not respond within the prescribed four-hour time frame to the notification.
Serrano-Vitorino was released after the standard six-hour hold in domestic violence cases. He was charged in municipal court with domestic battery and later was found guilty of simple battery and paid a $150 fine.
Officials with ICE said the notification was not a fingerprint “hit” and therefore required a face-to-face interview with Serrano-Vitorino by an ICE agent before a detainer to hold him could be issued. The request from Wyandotte County came it at 1:30 a.m. and Serrano-Vitorino could not be interviewed before he was released, officials said.
While not wanting to criticize ICE, Wyandotte County District Attorney Jerome Gorman said Wednesday that something needs to be done to make sure the system works better in the future.
“It can’t go on the way it happened in this case,” he said.
According to ICE, deportation proceedings were started against Serrano-Vitorino in 2002.
In 2003, he was convicted of making a terroristic threat in Los Angeles and sentenced to two years in prison. He completed his sentence and ICE agents eventually deported him to Mexico in April 2004.
Officials do not know when he re-entered the United States, but his return is a federal felony.
Serrano-Vitorino had three other encounters with police, but in each case he apparently was released from custody before his immigration status could be ascertained.
In November 2014, he was convicted of driving under the influence in Coffey County, Kan., but ICE officials say an initial review of their records shows that they were never notified that he was fingerprinted at that time. They said Wednesday they are continuing to review their records.
Last April, Kansas City, Kan., police said, Serrano-Vitorino was the victim of an auto theft, but as a crime victim he was not questioned about his immigration status.
In August, Overland Park police stopped him for traffic violations. He was cited for having a defective headlight, having no valid driver’s license and failure to provide proof of insurance.
Overland Park police said he was not arrested, but he was fingerprinted during municipal court processing before he was issued tickets and released. When his fingerprints were entered in a national database, ICE officials sought to have him detained.
But ICE sent the paperwork to the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office to have him held, officials said. But because he was not taken to jail, neither ICE nor the sheriff’s department could take action on the detainer request.
“Obviously I wish it didn’t happen,” Gorman said Wednesday of the bureaucratic missteps. “I wish I had a say in seeing that it doesn’t happen again.”
At a vigil Wednesday night in front of the home where the killings occurred, some friends and family members of the victims said they were angry that Serrano-Vitorino had been allowed to remain here.
Perry Goin, a relative of one of the victims, said he had mixed feelings after hearing of Serrano-Vitorino’s arrest in Missouri.
“I felt relieved that they caught him and he wasn’t going to hurt anyone else,” he said. “But still angry that they could have caught him before any of this happened.”
Also because of his immigration status, it is illegal for Serrano-Vitorino to possess a firearm. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is investigating how he obtained the semiautomatic AK-47-style rifle, an ATF spokesman said Wednesday.
The Missouri Highway Patrol requested the federal help in tracing the rifle that Serrano-Vitorino had with him when he was arrested early Wednesday morning after a lengthy manhunt in Montgomery County, Mo.
Serrano-Vitorino, 40, was charged Tuesday in Wyandotte County District Court with four counts of first-degree murder for the Monday night spree. In Missouri, Montgomery County prosecutors charged him with first-degree murder Wednesday afternoon.
Kansas City, Kan., police on Wednesday released the names of four men he is accused of killing.
Michael Capps, 41, Jeremy Waters, 36, and brothers Clint Harter, 27, and Austin Harter, 29, were killed at a house where Capps lived in the 3000 block of South 36th Street.
Waters lived in Miami County, Kan. The other three were residents of Kansas City, Kan.
Two of the victims were found dead on a couch inside the house. One man was found wounded on the front porch and another was in the front yard. Both died later.
Serrano-Vitorino lived next door to Capps and fled after the shootings were reported about 11 p.m. Monday.
The vehicle he was driving was found abandoned about eight hours later along Interstate 70 in Montgomery County, Mo., about 175 miles east of Kansas City.
A short time later, he allegedly fatally shot 49-year-old Randy J. Nordman, who lived in New Florence, Mo., near where Serrano-Vitorino’s pickup truck was found abandoned along Interstate 70.
He is being held in the Montgomery County Jail on the Missouri and Wyandotte County murder charges and on a hold for the immigration violation.
Gorman said it has not yet been decided whether Serrano-Vitorino will be tried first in Missouri or Wyandotte County.
“I’d love to have him here first,” Gorman said. “Four persons in my community were killed.”
Gorman also said it was too early to determine whether he will seek the death penalty.
He declined to discuss possible motives in the shootings, but did say there was no indication that drugs were involved.
Kansas City, Kan., Police Chief Terry Zeigler said that he was unaware of any previous police calls involving a dispute between the men involved.