Suspect in burned body murder was twice in ICE custody before killing

Ernesto Esquivel Garcia given voluntary departure order weeks before murder

By Dillon Collier - Investigative Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - San Antonio officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirm that a man accused of murdering a former a co-worker, then burning his body inside a North Side apartment last month was twice in their custody only to be released both times.

Ernesto Esquivel Garcia, 20, faces charges of murder, arson and abuse of a corpse related to the killing of Jared Vargas, whose body was found inside a burned apartment in the 7900 block of Jones Maltsberger Road on June 18.

San Antonio Police Department dash camera and body camera footage obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders shows Esquivel Garcia being arrested by SAPD in March 2017 after he admitted to crashing his truck into cars belonging to his ex-girlfriend and one of her family members in front of a home in the 100 block of Glencoe Drive.

He was also accused that night of breaking his ex-girlfriend's cell phone and fighting with two men in her family who came outside after the crash, according to statements recorded on camera.

Residents at the home did not respond to a request for comment from the Defenders on Thursday.

On the police body camera footage, however, they described Esquivel Garcia as a "bad guy" involved with questionable people. 

"I know he does drugs. I know he has a lot to do with selling drugs," a family member of Esquivel Garcia's ex-girlfriend told SAPD officers on the recording.

Esquivel Garcia's girlfriend told officers he had come to the U.S. from Guanajuato, Mexico three years earlier and then asked if an immigration hold would be placed on him.

The officers later confirmed on the recording that a hold would in fact be placed on him after his arrest.

Officers found a marijuana pipe on Esquivel Garcia and, inside his truck, found a small container with drug residue on it and six empty bottles of Dos Equis beer, as well as one open bottle of it, according to body camera footage recorded by officers.

After performing a field sobriety test, Esquivel Garcia was arrested on charges of DWI and misdemeanor criminal mischief.

A jail timeline provided by the Bexar County Sheriff's Office shows that Esquivel Garcia was then held on an immigration detainer until April 15, 2017, when authorities from ICE picked him up.

When asked about Esquivel Garcia's contact with ICE, a spokeswoman released the following written statement on Friday:

On June 18, 2018, deportation officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) placed a detainer with Bexar County (Texas) Jail on Ernesto Esquivel-Garcia, from Mexico, following his arrest the same day by San Antonio Police Department on murder and arson charges. Esquivel-Garcia remains in state custody pending the outcome of his criminal case.  

ICE first placed an immigration detainer on Esquivel-Garcia on March 1, 2017, after his criminal arrest for driving while intoxicated (DWI) and another misdemeanor. Esquivel was placed into removal proceedings. He posted bond granted by the immigration judge and was released from custody. On May 21, 2018, an immigration judge issued him a voluntary departure, contingent on posting a departure bond. On May 25, when Esquivel-Garcia tried to pay his bond, ICE turned him over to Bexar County after discovering that he had an active arrest warrant for obstructing highway. Four days later, Bexar County transferred Esquivel-Garcia back to ICE, and the same day he posted the departure bond that was set by an immigration judge May 21.  

Before departing ICE’s office May 29, 2018, ICE deportation officers instructed Esquivel-Garcia to leave the United States by July 20, 2018, as imposed by the immigration judge’s voluntary departure order.

A San Antonio immigration attorney, who spoke with the Defenders on the condition of anonymity on Thursday, said a voluntary departure order falls below a deportation and allows a person in the United States illegally to tie up loose ends before leaving the country of his or her own volition.

A voluntary departure order on a person's record is not treated as harshly as a deportation if he or she is taken into custody for being in the country illegally in the future, the attorney said.

Court records show the criminal mischief charge against Esquivel Garcia was dismissed and the DWI charge was reduced to obstruction of a highway by intoxication as part of a plea deal signed with prosecutors in early January.

The records, however, show that a warrant was issued for Esquivel Garcia's arrest in May after he violated several conditions of his probation, including failing to report to a probation officer, failing to pay court fees, failing to complete a victim impact panel and DWI education program and for failing to comply with the rules of his interlock device.

Few details about Vargas' death have been released.

The Bexar County Medical Examiner's Office confirmed last month that he died as a result of homicidal violence.

Neighbors previously said that Esquivel Garcia lived at the apartment where Vargas' body was found.

Members of Vargas' family said that the victim and Esquivel Garcia worked together briefly at Bowl and Barrel at the Rim.

Vargas' family released the following statement to KSAT 12 News: 

"We want to thank you for continuing to investigate and bring light to this horrible tragedy that has affected our family and the entire San Antonio community. However, at this time in the investigation, we are wanting to allow the detectives and the DA the opportunity to do all they need to do to gather all the evidence they need to charge Ernesto with the maximum penalty allowed."

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