By Tom Roeder The Gazette
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A man accused of shooting a Colorado Springs police officer in the head in a shootout early Thursday while free on bond was known to immigration enforcement officials, yet evaded deportation despite a string of crimes, court records show.
Why Karrar Al Khammasi wasn’t deported was among the questions left unanswered Friday as his bond was revoked. Cem Duzel, the officer he is accused of shooting, remained hospitalized in critical condition.
The 31-year-old Iraqi immigrant appears to have lived in the Pikes Peak region for at least five years, and he had at least nine contacts with police in that time, according to court records.
On the day he pleaded guilty in 2014 to felony trespassing, Al Khammasi was on an immigration hold, court records show.
Whether his guilty plea should have triggered deportation depends on a variety of factors. But his conviction raised the question as to why he was allowed to remain in the United States, said David Simmons, a Denver immigration attorney of more than 30 years and a former adjunct professor at the University of Denver.
Some forms of trespass are considered crimes of moral turpitude — which can lead to deportation — and others are not, Simmons said.
The consequences of such a conviction also could vary, depending on how long he had been in the country, or the nature of the circumstances that brought him here. Some Iraqis living in the U.S. came as refugees who assisted the government or who fled persecution. But those refugees sometimes evade deportation because of chaos in their home country, or threats to their lives upon their return.
It is unknown whether those things factored into Al Khammasi’s immigration here, and the type of visa Al Khammasi used to enter the United States wasn’t clear.
El Paso County sheriff’s spokesman Jacqueline Kirby said Al Khammasi was an Iraqi citizen who was born in Iraq. She had previously said Al Khammasi was a refugee, but she later said she was mistaken, and that she wasn’t certain of his immigration status.
The last five years of Al Khammasi’s life have been marked by several run-ins with the law.
He picked up his first charge for drunken driving in 2013.
A month later, he was charged with criminal extortion in a case that police say was tied to a dispute over a business debt of $25,000, according to court papers. Investigators suspect Al Khammasi threatened a man and his family, and also set a car on fire.
The man told police that Al Khammasi’s “behavior began to change when he came into money and was drinking and possibly using drugs,” according to an arrest affidavit.
Al Khammasi pleaded guilty to a lesser felony, first-degree trespassing of a dwelling, and was sentenced to two years of probation, court records show.
“It sounds like he had a criminal defense lawyer who was aware of possible immigration consequences and negotiated that plea,” Simmons said. “It’s also possible that he’s a permanent resident and as permanent resident long enough that a single conviction for crime of moral turpitude wouldn’t trigger (deportation).”
An official clerk’s account of court proceedings on Feb. 19, 2014, says “(defendant) has immigration hold,” a court document obtained by The Gazette shows.
Kirby, the sheriff’s spokeswoman, said she could not find mention of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials requesting that he be held.
After Al Khammasi violated the terms of probation, a judge sentenced him to a year and a half in prison. He received credit for time served for almost half of it, court records show.
After Al Khammasi got out, he didn’t stay out of trouble. He picked up a traffic ticket and was arrested in June 2017 for allegedly punching a person “in the face approximately three times,” court documents show.
In January, Al Khammasi wound up back in handcuffs with an arrest on a weapons charge, possession by a previous offender. A tipster phoned police that his vehicle was outside a North Nevada Avenue motel, and officers later found a stolen .38 Special revolver in his room.
In February, he entered a guilty plea on the 2017 assault case and put up $1,000 cash bail on the weapons case.
Al Khammasi was free to go. Until early Thursday.
Al Khammasi remains hospitalized, causing him to miss a court appearance Friday, his attorney, public defender Jennifer Chu, said at the hearing related to the stolen revolver.
Fourth Judicial District Chief Judge William Bain revoked his bail, citing the new allegations, and appointed the Colorado Public Defender’s Office to represent him. He was ordered to return to court Aug. 8 on the weapons charge.
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