YULEE, Fla. – A man a Nassau County deputy was chasing when he was struck and killed by a vehicle last week told a federal judge Monday that he wants to plead guilty to entering the country illegally.
Francisco Portillo-Fuentes, of El Salvador, who has been deported twice before -- most recently in August – could face up to two years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
A change-of-plea hearing for Portillo-Fuentes is scheduled for Dec. 5.
“The maximum sentence is two years in prison as a practical matter in most of these cases, and I realize this case may be a little bit different because of the tragic circumstances, but in most of these cases what usually happens is people are sentenced to the time they've already served, plus seven days,” said Mark Rosenblum, Portillo-Fuentes' attorney. “The extra seven days is so immigration services can get its ducks in a row in order to deport a person.”
The State Attorney's Office told News4Jax a decision about state charges in Nassau County Deputy Eric Oliver's death would be pending the outcome of the investigation.
“What Mr. Portillo-Fuentes did was not intentional,” Rosenblum said. “He didn't do anything. Basically all he did, as I understood what they tell me, is that he ran away. And that to me is just human nature. It's what's called fight or flight.”
Rosenblum said that he believes his client should be treated like other illegal immigrants who run from authorities.
News4Jax has learned that Portillo-Fuentes, 26, was living near the Gator Lodge on Philips Highway and was picked up last Tuesday to do day labor work in Nassau County. Federal investigators said that unless criminal activity is reported, they usually don't investigate when groups of day laborers are picked up.
According to Todd Bryant, division chief for the U.S. Border Patrol's Miami Sector, six men in a pickup truck located at a Gate gas station in Yulee were investigated by Border Patrol officers, and at least three were found to be foreign nationals not authorized to be in the United States. Portillo-Fuentes was in the truck with the men, authorities said.
As agents were placing the three men under arrest and putting them in the Border Patrol vehicle, Portillo-Fuentes ran.
Oliver and another deputy followed him, and Oliver was killed when he was hit by an SUV while chasing Portillo-Fuentes across State Road 200 about 7:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Portillo-Fuentes was arrested about 7:45 p.m. last Tuesday at Atlantic Self Storage on Powers Avenue following a manhunt involving the U.S. Marshals Service, the Nassau County Sheriff's Office, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and the Florida Highway Patrol.
Portillo-Fuentes was deported from the United States in 2011 and again sometime after an August 15, 2016, conviction for DUI. He was arrested in a traffic stop on Philips Highway at 2:15 a.m. on May 15.
After he pleaded guilty to the DUI charge, he was transferred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. According to federal court documents, he re-entered the United States a second time by wading across the Rio Grande River from Mexico to Laredo, Texas.
CRIMINAL COMPLAINT: U.S. vs. Francisco Portillo-Fuentes
At an appearance Wednesday afternoon in Jacksonville federal court, Portillo-Fuentes told the judge, sometimes through an interpreter, that he has a third-grade education and has a wife and three children.
His public defender asked for bail, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel B. Toomey ordered Portillo-Fuentes held pending the detention hearing.
"I don't think he's going to be deported again," immigration attorney Stephen Davis said. "I think he is going to face some time here."
News4Jax has asked authorities if the company that hired Portillo-Fuentes could face penalties, but no one has responded.