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Gang bust wrongly targets Carbondale man

by John ColsonGlenwood Springs Post Independent
July 22nd, 2010

When federal and local authorities swept up 30 alleged gang members and their associates recently, they apparently made at least one mistake.

Agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement included on their list of suspects a Carbondale man named Marco Guevara, apparently based on outdated information.

At shortly after 6 a.m. on July 13, as part of a week-long series of raids, representatives of ICE, the Carbondale Police Department and the Garfield County Sheriff's Office, among others, were at the front door of the Guevara home to arrest Marco.

Guevara, 24, not only is not a gang member or associated with any gangs, but he is a born-again Baptist who has "turned his life around," according to both him and his stepmother. He also is a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Guevara has been a resident of Colorado for 11 years, he told the Post Independent this week. When his father, Anibal Guevara-Stone, became a U.S. citizen in 2003, so did Marco. He holds a U.S. passport and is an active member of the Crystal River Baptist Church.

He admits to having made mistakes in his life, including a 2008 conviction on drug charges, for which he served several months in the Garfield County Jail.

"For once, the justice system actually worked," said stepmom Laurie Guevara-Stone, a 20-year Carbondale resident, describing how her stepson "found God" while serving in jail.

"I paid my consequences [for my crimes]," Marco said, adding that he is now on probation, takes regular drug tests, and spends much of his spare time in volunteer work for his church.

In fact, according to his stepmother, Marco was expecting some of his fellow church members when he opened the door on July 13, and was told he was about to be deported because he had "too many felonies" on his record.

"I only have the one felony," he said, referring to the conviction, "and I've been saved for a year and a half," a reference to his conversion to the Baptist faith while in jail.

When Marco turned to call to his father and stepmother that morning, he said, an officer grabbed him by the arm and "rushed me down to the floor of my own house" before dragging him outside in handcuffs.

"The were basically being prejudiced," he recalled. "I have some tattoos ... they were judging me by my appearance."

It was only after Laurie Guevara-Stone intervened, she said, that the officers would consent to look at Marco's passport and, ultimately, released him.

"There were 15 or 20 of them," she recalled of the moment she realized something was up and rushed to the door.

"They were just screaming at him," she continued. "They were, like, armed and everything."

One of the ICE agents, she said, told her that "our records show he's a resident alien" who had been arrested on drug charges.

"That was over a year ago," she argued. "He spent months and months in jail. ... If they didn't think he was a U.S. citizen, why didn't they deport him then?"

The episode has left Laurie Guevara-Stone shaken and worried, she said, although she said, "I feel like he's very lucky I was there. Most people this happens to, they don't have someone like me in the house, someone who these agents will respect and listen to."

"I feel their whole system is faulty," she said of ICE and the law enforcement agencies involved. She said one ICE agent told her that there may have been some irregularity with the citizenship paperwork, and that they might be back.

"Immigration is an issue for this county," she conceded, "but this isn't the way to solve it. I'm proud to live in a community with such diversity, and I feel people should embrace it and take advantage of it."

The Guevara-Stone family has enlisted the aid of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition in Denver, which is investigating the matter, according to Rocky Mountain Coordinator Brendan Greene.

Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling said he could not discuss much about the matter, but explained that his department did not furnish ICE with Guevara's name. He said ICE informed the department that they wanted to "contact" Guevara, "and we went along with them. We were just assisting another agency."

He had no explanation for why the Carbondale officers at the incident did not speak up on behalf of either Marco or Laurie.

Attempts to reach a spokesman for ICE on Tuesday were not successful.

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