A Los Angeles Police Department officer was arrested Tuesday morning and charged with smuggling illegal immigrants into California, KCBS-TV reported.
Officer Mambasse Koulabalo Patara has been placed on administrative leave after being hit with federal charges of violating immigration laws.
Patara was in his vehicle with two passengers, Herman Lopez and German Ramirez Gonzalez. They ran into a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint just after midnight in Pine Valley, California, which is about 12 miles north of the Mexican border.
Patara identified himself to the Border Patrol agents as an off-duty police officer, and he was carrying his service weapon in his waistband at the time of the stop.
According to the federal complaint, Patara initially told Border Patrol that Lopez and Gonzalez were U.S. citizens, but they both later admitted that they were in the country illegally.
The two immigrants gave conflicting stories, according to court records.
Lopez said he and Gonzalez crossed the border illegally, walked for about half a day to get to a casino, and convinced a stranger to give them a ride.
Gonzalez, however, said they had crossed the border on Sunday, and that he had known Patara for five years.
Court records show agents perceived that all three men seemed nervous during the stop.
Why was Patara’s community 'shocked'?
According to KCBS, some of Patara’s neighbors were in disbelief that the longtime officer would be accused of smuggling illegal immigrants.
“I’ve heard what happened, and I’m really shocked,” one neighbor told KCBS. “They’ve always just been a really nice family ever since my husband and I have lived here. … There’s always multiple sides to every story, so I think that’s important for everyone to keep in mind … before jumping to conclusions on these types of things.”
Patara is 42 years old and has served with the LAPD for 10 years.