MIAMI — An accused Coral Gables rapist who was deported to Central America before he could stand trial is back on U.S. soil.
Werner Orozco, shackled and accompanied by U.S. Marshals, was extradited from Panama and arrived Friday afternoon on a flight into Miami-Dade County. He will be booked into a Miami jail.
His extradition came one year after the Miami Herald revealed that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents took Orozco from a county jail the day after his arrest in September 2018. He was deported 13 days later, blindsiding state prosecutors, Coral Gables officers and the woman who accused Orozco of rape.
“I was in shock. He’s still free. He didn’t get in trouble for anything,” the woman told the Herald last year. “It didn’t make me feel better. It made me feel worse.”
After the article appeared, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office Extradition Section began working with U.S. Marshals and Gables detectives to find Orozco. It turns out, he was not in his native Guatemala.
Tipsters told investigators that Orozco, 42, surfaced in Bimini, where he was working as a bartender in a restaurant. “People who saw the article pointed us in the direction of the Bahamas,” Coral Gables Police Chief Ed Hudak told the Herald.
Orozco, who traveled back and forth to Guatemala, was eventually arrested several months ago in Panama during a flight layover.
“Deporting Werner Orozco without requiring him to face these serious criminal charges undercut the very credibility of our criminal justice system. Neither I nor our law enforcement partners could ever allow that to stand,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said in a statement Friday, adding: “This criminal case will finally be resolved in a courtroom.”
An ICE spokesman declined to comment.
Deportations of criminal defendants are far from new. But under previous presidential administrations, immigration agents generally prioritized deporting criminal defendants back to their home country after they have been convicted and served their sentence.
But under President Donald Trump, ICE has increasingly detained and deported undocumented people before their local criminal cases have been concluded. Critics say those deportations robs the states such as Florida of its due-process rights — and also squashes any chance wrongfully accused people have to defend themselves in court.
ICE can request that Miami-Dade jail place a “detainer” hold on someone who may face possible deportation.
Miami-Dade stopped accepting ICE detainer requests in 2013 after adopting a policy that restricted them to people accused of serious crimes and requiring payment of extra incarceration costs by Washington, which refused to pay. The county reversed course days after Trump became president in January 2017 and threatened to withhold federal funding from so-called “sanctuary communities” that did not cooperate with immigration authorities.
Since then, more than 4,000 inmates have been designated immigration “holds,” according to jail records, and more than 2,700 have been turned over to ICE.
Orozco will now be held without bond on a charge of sexual battery.
He had been depoted from the United States once before, after a 2011 arrest for domestic battery, a case that was dropped by prosecutors. He returned to South Florida illegally, and eventually worked his way up to become the general manager at a restaurant in Coral Gables.
Then, Gables police arrested him in September 2018 after the victim told police he pinned her to a kitchen counter and raped her after a “night out,” according to a police report. The two, she told the Herald, were longtime co-workers and nothing more.
The woman called Orozco and, with Gables detectives secretly recording, he “repeatedly apologized for having intercourse with the victim against her will,” according to an arrest report.
Orozco was charged with sexual battery with no great harm. He immediately put up the money for bond, but one day later, ICE agents took him from the jail. Miami-Dade prosecutors did not find out about his detention until they filed formal charges weeks later at the arraignment.
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