Fresno indictments in 2014 hit the lowest level in at least five years. Overall, indictments in 2014 were down 36% from 2013.
As a result, Wagner says, dangerous undocumented immigrants are being released from county jails across the central San Joaquin Valley before federal law enforcement can arrest them.
“It’s something we’re quite concerned about,” he says. “Our focus is not people who are here illegally, but people who are here illegally and have a significant criminal history and pose a public risk.”
Immigration activists offer a different viewpoint. They say the change is welcome and has largely stopped people from being held in jail solely because of their immigration status.
While immigration cases accounted for much of the drop in Fresno federal indictments, there is another area seeing a high-profile decline: sex crimes against minors.
In Fresno, for years this has often been synonymous with child pornography arrests, with the Eastern District of California charging such cases at twice the national average. The backbone of the push has been Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched by the Department of Justice in May 2006 to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse.
Recently, Wagner asked prosecutors in both Fresno and Sacramento to pursue fewer indictments, but target the more serious cases.
An example would be the arrest last August of Visalia resident Tyrell Richmond, who is charged with sex trafficking after authorities say he tried to force three girls into prostitution in Fresno and Visalia. The case was a joint investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Fresno Police Department along with the Visalia Police Department.
As a result of the new approach, indictments for sex crimes against minors went from 33 in 2013 to 20 last year — a 39% drop.
Wagner says he wants the focus on child pornography production more than the guy with a child porn collection who is “living in his mom’s basement.” He also wants prosecution priorities focused more on sexual predators and any one who is in a position of authority who may be breaking child sex crime laws.