Union: man charged in trooper's death should have been behind bars

10/13/99 7:21 AM Eastern

PASCO, Wash. (AP) -- The man charged in the slaying of a Washington State Patrol trooper likely would have been behind bars if a local immigration agent had not been temporarily assigned to Arizona, an official of the agents' union said.

But immigration authorities said other agents could have taken the man into custody, and noted that their agents were not alerted by the Franklin County Jail.

Nicolas Solorio Vasquez, 28, of Pasco, has been charged with aggravated first-degree murder in Franklin County Superior Court in the death of Trooper James Saunders, 31. Vasquez was being held in lieu of $2 million bail.

At the time of the slaying Thursday, Vasquez was out on $5,000 bail and awaiting a November trial on a charge of cocaine delivery.

Vasquez, a Mexican national, has been deported three times in the past three years, according to the U.S. Border Patrol.

Immigration officials typically place a hold on a prisoner like Vasquez, who also has a criminal record that includes a Franklin County drug conviction. But no hold was placed on Vasquez because of the temporary transfer of the Tri-Cities Border Patrol agent to Arizona, maintains Keith Olson, president of a local of the National Border Patrol Council, based in Ferndale.

"We said in a press release a week ago (objecting to the transfers) that something like this is going to happen," he said.

Recently, six Border Patrol agents in the Northwest began 35-day assignments in Douglas, Ariz. Six other Northwest agents will replace them.

Immigration officials say the transfer shouldn't have kept a hold from being put on Vasquez. Another Border Patrol agent, as well as two Immigration and Naturalization Service agents, are based in the Tri-Cities, said Tony Davis, chief agent for the Border Patrol in Spokane. Jail officials could have notified them about Vasquez, as they typically do, he said.

Sheriff's Capt. Rick Long of the Franklin County Corrections Center would not comment specifically on the Vasquez case.

But he noted that Border Patrol agents are frequently in his jail, checking records to find deportable aliens.