As activists around the United States mobilize against the conditions inside of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities, the agency continues its operations on the ground in American cities. On September 5th, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers shot Jose Fernando Andrade-Sanchez in his car as he attempted to leave the Food Lion parking lot in Antioch, Tennessee, a suburb of Nashville.
The shooting, which occurred at a heavily trafficked intersection in broad daylight, left the 39-year-old Mexican man alive but with bullet wounds in his stomach and his elbow which required surgery at a Nashville area hospital. At the end of the day on September 6th, Antioch children were so unsettled by the shooting that some teachers rode home with their students on the school bus.
“There was such a concern and fear in the community because children didn’t know what they were coming back to [after the shooting]. And it’s all because of this one ICE agent who has no accountability to anybody,” Brenda Perez of The MIX, said in an interview with Democracy Now.
Bradley Thomas Epley, a 49-year-old former Border Patrol officer, was one of the two Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents present in the Food Lion parking lot on September 5th. Though ICE spokesperson Brian Cox told reporters that Andrade-Sanchez drove towards the officer as he fled the scene, video footage shows an agent drawing his gun and following the vehicle as it drove away from the officer, and firing two shots through the windshield.
Bradley Epley’s history as an Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent reveals allegations of illegal activity, violence, and at least two cases of mistaken identity. Epley was named in two federal lawsuits alleging illegal search and seizure in 2010. Both lawsuits were settled out of court. In 2017, Epley arrested Faustino Rodriguez Hernandez in a Nashville courthouse on federal immigration charges. Hernandez had appeared in court that day to settle a traffic violation. In July of 2019, Epley was in the news again when he and another ICE official attempted a warrantless arrest of a Hendersonville man and were blocked by a human chain of the man’s neighbors. Many Americans, including some politicians (after being pressured by directly affected communities), are seeking to abolish ICE. Some of the most egregious allegations against the agency are illustrated by a closer look at Bradley Epley’s public record.
The first federal lawsuit in which Bradley Epley is named was brought in 2011 by Nashville residents David Tapia-Tovar and Ana Maria Vazquez. It alleges Epley was one of several ICE officers who forced their way into Tapia-Tovar’s home, grabbed him by the arm, and forced him into the living room as other officers then searched the home without a warrant. A complaint filed in Nashville district court reveals that not only did the ICE officers force their way into Tapia-Tovar’s home without a warrant but that at the root of the encounter was a case of a mistaken identity- Tapia-Tovar was not the intended target of the search:
53. As he sat handcuffed on the couch, David asked the first ICE agent why he and the others had entered their home.
54. In reply, one ICE agent held a file folder a few feet in front of David’s face. Attached to the front of the folder was a large photograph of a man of Latino appearance.
55. The man in the photograph bore no resemblance to David. His skin was darker, his nose was wider, and his eyes were set differently.
56. No reasonable person could mistake the man in the photograph for David.
57. Printed on the cover of the ICE folder was the name “David Tovar-Najera.”
58. David and Anna had never known or even heard of a person named David Tovar-Najera before this encounter. [*1]
Tapia-Tovar, an undocumented immigrant, was removed from his home and taken to the ICE office where deportation proceedings were initiated. His complaint alleges that Epley lied to the immigration court about how ICE agents were able to enter Tapia-Tovar’s home. Epley also stated to the court that “[Tapia-Tovar] had entered the United States at an unknown time of day and at an unknown location,” which is the “policy and practice of the Nashville ICE Office…when completing ICE database processing of suspected aliens ICE agents encounter,” the complaint states. The lawsuit calls Epley’s statement “[another] utter and transparent fabrication.” The lawsuit, filed by Ozment Law, was settled out of court.
The second lawsuit Epley appeared in that year was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of fifteen plaintiffs, both documented and undocumented, who lived at the Claremont Apartments in South Nashville. They were illegally detained by Epley and other officers when ICE raided the complex without a warrant on October 20, 2010, leading to the arrest of twenty people. Lindsay Kee of the ACLU of Tennessee described the scene:
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents began hitting objects against the bedroom windows, trying to break in. Without a search warrant and without consent, the ICE agents eventually knocked in the front door and shattered a window, shouting racial slurs and storming into the bedrooms, holding guns to some people’s heads. When asked if they had a warrant, one agent reportedly said, “We don’t need a warrant, we’re ICE,” and, gesturing to his genitals, “the warrant is coming out of my balls.” [*2]
The lawsuit alleged that Epley and the other ICE officers at the Clairmont Apartments physically and verbally abused the plaintiffs, including pointing guns at the heads of two men, Jesus Villalobos and Javier Deras. The city and federal government settled the lawsuit for $310,000.
Whether Epley or the other agents cited in these lawsuits were punished by Immigration and Customs Enforcement is unknown.
In June 2017, in the months following Donald Trump’s inauguration which were characterized, in part, by an uptick of ICE arrests at courthouses, Bradley Epley arrested 33-year-old Faustino Rodriguez Hernandez. Hernandez, a Honduran man who was in the court of General Sessions Judge Lynda Jones for a traffic violation, had been caught driving without a license. The ICE officials on-site took Hernandez from the courthouse into custody on an ICE warrant, despite the fact that the warrant was not signed by a judge. Assistant Public Defender Mary Kathryn Harcombe told The Tennessean that court employees typically don’t understand the distinction between an ICE warrant and a standard warrant and might have illegally detained Hernandez, who was handed over to Epley while Judge Jones was out of the room. The ICE warrant did not allow court officers to detain an individual on ICE’s behalf. In a statement to The Tennessean via email, Judge Lynda Jones said that Epley nearly arrested the wrong man earlier that day:
“The agent [Epley] informed my court officer that the true warranted individual was the ‘spittin image’ of the gentleman who was almost wrongfully arrested [before Hernandez’s arrest]. My court officer stated that the ICE agent then said, ‘TRUST ME.’”
In an incident that gained national attention, on the morning of July 22, 2019, Epley and an unnamed officer arrived in the Nashville suburb of Hermitage. They pulled into the driveway of an unnamed family’s home, blocking in the van in which a man and his son were sitting. To avoid the ICE agents, the man, who is undocumented, locked himself and his son in the van, initiating a four-hour-long standoff. During those four hours, the Nashville Scene reports that more than a dozen of the man’s neighbors, as well as local immigrant rights activists, gathered in the yard with snacks, water, cool towels to fight the heat and gas to keep the van running. Like the warrant Epley brought to the Nashville courthouse, the warrant Epley presented on July 22 had not been signed by a judge. It did not allow officers to forcibly enter the Hermitage man’s car or home. The MIX reports that at one point the father and son were told by an ICE agent,
“We’ll just call the cops and they’ll arrest you, and then when they’re done with you in the jail, then we’ll get you.” Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD) officers were also at the scene.
The man’s neighbors made a human chain around his vehicle so he and his son could safely exit the car and re-enter their home. By 10 AM, Epley, his fellow officer, and the MNPD left the scene. The attempted arrest was conducted as a part of President Trump’s Operation Border Resolve, which targeted 2,000 families but resulted in only 35 arrests. Local resident Angela Glass told the Scene of the man who was targeted,
“These people, they’ve been living there for 14 years,” Glass says. “They don’t bother anybody. Our kids play with their kids. It’s just one big community. And we don’t want to see anything happen to them. They’re good people. They’ve been here 14 years, leave them alone.”
On 17 September 2019, less than a month after being shot by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Jose Fernando Andrade-Sanchez was arrested outside Ozment Law, an immigration law office in Nashville, Tennessee. Ozment Law, which in twenty years has never had an enforcement operation conducted on its property, said in a statement:
Immigration agents’ decision to make a violent, aggressive arrest on a law firm’s private property sends a chilling message that even those with valid claims to adjusting their status and continuing their lives in this country are at risk.
Andrade-Sanchez, who has previously been deported, has been charged with illegal reentry into the United States.
The record of Bradley Epley illustrates how Immigration and Customs Enforcement, aided by the Metro Nashville Police Department and Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall, has operated within the Middle Tennessee community for over a decade, traumatizing individuals and families. Increased scrutiny of Immigration and Customs Enforcement under the Trump administration has caused some Americans to boycott companies like Amazon that provide ICE with facial recognition technology, to call for the immediate abolition of the agency, and to demand that 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates make the abolition of ICE a part of their 2020 platform. A week after the shooting of Jose Fernando Andrade-Sanchez, the Nashville Scene published a two-piece cover package on the deportation pipeline. As the MIX’s Brenda Perez pointed out on Facebook, “I’m glad the Nashville Scene is covering this, I will be more enthused when they center and interview undocumented people on issues that affect us. We have been here and our daily lives are the front lines.”
Bradley Epley is still employed by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.