ROCKY RIVER, Ohio -- The arrest of a respected member of Cleveland’s Romanian community is the latest chapter in a controversial immigration case.
On August 27, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents asked the Rocky River Police Department to help them arrest 44--year old Gheorghe Lates, a Romanian national who came to the U.S. legally 17 years ago, but overstayed his Visa and is now subject to deportation.
On police body camera video of the incident, officers were heard repeatedly asking Lates to get out of his minivan, but he refused and told them that he was trying to call his attorney. Officers eventually smashed out the window in his passenger window and he was taken into custody by ICE agents.
"We gave him every opportunity to come out and we're not going to sit there for hours on end waiting for this to drag on, ultimately a decision was made to break a window and get him out,” said Rocky River Police Chief Kelly Stillman.
Friends said there is a compelling story behind the conduct that morning of Gheorghe Lates, a married father of three U.S. born children and choir director and cantor at St. Mary Romanian Orthodox Cathedral in Cleveland.
They said his seven-year-old daughter Sophia was born with a heart defect, and doctors have told the family that her life would be at risk if she left the country in the event her father is deported.
"You know as a parent, you don't think of yourself in that moment, you think of your kids, and you think what's best and that was his instant reaction, probably that's why he didn't get out, not because he disrespected anyone," said Church secretary Mihaela Hetruc.
Members of the St. Mary's congregation are now asking the federal government to allow Lates to stay in the country on humanitarian grounds. They have sent letters to President Trump asking him to intercede on behalf of Lates.
Chief Stillman said while he is sympathetic to the plight of the family, his officers had a duty to assist the ICE agents in enforcing the law.
"His complaint about leaving the country, we have no jurisdiction over that, that's nothing to be talked about or decided in a 15 minute conversation with two of my officers up there in the wee hours of the morning," he said.
"If your child has that condition, medical condition, what would you do, that's the ultimate question," Hetruc said in response.