BOSTON (AP) — A federal judge blocked the extradition of a man Wednesday accused of killing a police officer and injuring two others in the Dominican Republic in 2013 and ordered him released.
U.S. District Court Judge for Rhode Island John McConnell ruled that extraditing Cristian Aguasvivas, a Dominican national, would violate the United Nations' Convention Against Torture, which prohibits the extradition of a person to a country where they are likely to be tortured.
He cited an earlier decision by the federal Board of Immigration Appeals which concluded that Aguasvivas would likely be tortured by Dominican police if he returned to the Caribbean island nation.
"The Court therefore finds no basis to decide that one arm of the Executive Branch can make a determination and another arm of the Executive Branch can ignore that determination when deciding the exact issue," McConnell wrote.
He also said the U.S's extradition agreement with the Dominican Republic requires that the requesting country produce both the arrest warrant and charging documents, but Dominican officials only provided the warrant.
Aguasvivas, who is described in the ruling as a cabinet maker and father of two children, is accused of shooting an officer for the Dominican Republic's National Drug Control Agency in Bani, a city about 40 miles west of Santo Domingo.
Dominican authorities say the officers had been trying to arrest Aguasvivas for narcotics violations when he fatally shot the officer and injured two others. Aguasvivas eventually fled to the U.S. and sought asylum after he says Dominican security forces killed his brother and tortured his family, according to McConnell's ruling.
He was apprehended in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 2015 after the then-26-year-old was found using a fake identification card.
Aguasvivas is expected to remain in federal custody at the Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls, Rhode Island, at least until Thursday evening, as federal prosecutors have filed an emergency stay to block his release, according to Amy Barsky, Aguasvivas lawyer.
Barsky said her client maintains his innocence.
"Hopefully this nightmare will finally end," she said by email. "Judge McConnell's decision was absolutely the right one."
Federal prosecutors didn't respond to an email seeking comment.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which had filed briefs in the case, called the decision an important victory for immigrants in the face of the "anti-immigrant sentiment" from the federal government.
"It sends a strong message that the federal government is not above the law," said Steven Brown, head of the civil rights organization's Rhode Island chapter. The federal government's "position in this case was a direct and indefensible affront to our Constitution."