MEMPHIS — Federal immigration authorities picked up a reporter for Spanish-language media who was arrested this week while doing a live Internet video of a Memphis protest.
"They got him," Manuel Duran's defense attorney Ann Schiller said Thursday afternoon.
Duran, 42, is from El Salvador and has lived in the Memphis area for several years, working as an on-air personality for Spanish-language radio stations and more recently running his own online news outlet, Memphis Noticias.
Earlier Thursday, a prosecutor announced in court that the state was dropping criminal charges against Duran related to his arrest at Tuesday's protest.
Two men in plainclothes, possibly Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, watched the proceedings from the back of the courtroom during Duran's appearance at the criminal justice center.
"Unfortunately, ICE was waiting for him in the courtroom," advocacy group Latino Memphis tweeted Thursday afternoon. "He is currently with ICE."
Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Bryan D. Cox said the agency took Duran into custody Thursday after his release from the local jail.
Cox said Duran is living in the country illegally. "Mr. (Duran) was ordered removed from the United States by a federal immigration judge in January 2007 after failing to appear for his scheduled court date. He has been an immigration fugitive since that time," Cox wrote.
Christina Swatzell, a staff attorney with Latino Memphis, is representing Duran in the immigration case. She said she doesn't want to comment on Duran's case until she's spoken with him.
She said she didn't know where he was, but she expected him to be transported to a detention center in Mason, Tenn., and eventualy to another center in Jena, La. She said Duran has her phone number and she's waiting for him to call her from detention.
With Duran in immigration custody, he could face more days in detention and eventual deportation. He could ask an immigration judge to grant him bail and later to allow him to stay in the country.
Supporters released pictures of Duran with people he's met through work, including Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, Shelby County (Tenn.) Mayor Mark Luttrell and former Memphis mayor A C Wharton.
Supporters circulated petitions for ICE to release him.
“It is unacceptable and un-American for a journalist to be arrested for doing his job," Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, policy director at the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, said in a statement.
"While we’re grateful that all charges were dropped, we’re deeply outraged and disappointed by the role of local law enforcement in facilitating the possible deportation of a local journalist."
The statement also included a quote from Gabriela Marquez-Benitez at Detention Watch Network: "This clearly shows that Shelby County local officials are complicit with and are working hand-in-hand with ICE, a government agency that has a track record of egregious human rights abuses.”
The local jail is run by the Shelby County Sheriff's Office. Sheriff's spokesman Earle Farrell said earlier Thursday, "As long as I've been here, we've never held anyone for ICE."
He also said the jail would have released Duran on bond earlier after his family paid the fee, but that he refused to sign the relevant papers. Duran's defense lawyer said Duran refused to sign because he didn't understand the document.
Duran was arrested Tuesday during a protest outside the criminal justice center in Memphis.
Ironically, that protest focused on immigration detention and cooperation between local authorities and ICE. Protesters had put on costumes to play the role of an ICE agent leading a group of chained prisoners.
Memphis police began making arrests as the demonstrators slowly crossed Poplar Avenue. Some of the same demonstrators had blocked a road near a FedEx facility earlier in the day and police said this showed their intent to break the law.
The demonstrators argued the arrests were unnecessary.
Duran was live-streaming the protest at the time of the arrest.
Police said he refused orders to get out of the street. The arrests played out in from of news outlets from around the country in Memphis for the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich issued a statement earlier Thursday: “This office has dismissed misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and obstruction of a highway or passageway filed Tuesday against Manuel Duran. There was not sufficient evidence to go forward with prosecution. This ends any legal issues Mr. Duran has with this office."
That statement went out to news media about 1:30 p.m. A short time later, word spread that he was in immigration custody.
Follow Daniel Connolly on Twitter: @danielconnolly