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Jose Bello, who challenged ICE with poem, wanted by Tulare County Sheriff on suspicion of murder | News

A man whose arrest by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement became a rallying cry against unjust detention is apparently wanted on suspicion of his involvement with a murder in Tulare County.

Jose Omar Bello Reyes, 24, is being sought by the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office in connection to the death of 58-year-old Douglas R. Cline, who was found dead on Oct. 15 in an orchard near Terra Bella, an unincorporated community south of Porterville.

Although the Sheriff’s Office could not positively affirm the Bello they sought was the same Bello whose legal battles with ICE had generated significant media attention, his name, birthday and photo match The Californian’s previous reporting.

According to TCSO, Bello, along with Jesus Manjarezz, 23, and Dan Eli Perez, 38, are suspects in the murder. Manjarezz and Perez were both arrested and taken into custody on suspicion of murder and conspiracy to commit murder on Oct. 28, but Bello remains at large.

While searching for the trio in Terra Bella, Earlimart and Delano, law enforcement found an array of drugs, firearms and cash. According to the Sheriff’s Office, detectives even located a grenade launcher at one address associated with the suspects.

Other items confiscated from the addresses included 12 guns, 28 magazines, a pound of suspected cocaine, a pound of suspected heroin, a pound and a half of suspected fentanyl and more than $15,000 in cash, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Bello is known locally for reading a poem titled “Dear America” at a forum on collaboration between ICE and the Kern County Sheriff’s Office held in 2019 by the Kern County Board of Supervisors. The poem criticized America’s immigration policies such as family separation and the detention of immigrants undergoing deportation proceedings.

Thirty-six hours later, Bello was arrested by ICE. The federal agency claimed Bello’s arrest was due to a driving while under the influence charge incurred months earlier. However, the American Civil Liberties Foundation of Southern California sued the government over the arrest, saying ICE retaliated against Bello for reading the poem in violation of the First Amendment.

The story of Bello’s arrest spread nationwide. More than 100 college professors signed a letter protesting Bello’s arrest, and two NFL players — Josh Norman and Demario Davis — helped pay his $50,000 bail, along with the New York Immigration Freedom Fund and National Bail Fund Network.

At the time, Bello was a student at Bakersfield College. He had already been arrested by ICE in 2018. At the time, ICE said Bello and his brother, Oscar, were confirmed members of a local street gang with violent criminal convictions as youths. The brothers were allowed to voluntarily leave the United States for Mexico, but ICE said they illegally reentered the United States.

Students and faculty rallied around Bello in 2018, and he was released after posting his $10,000 bail. His attorney at the time claimed ICE had confused Bello for another person from the same area with the same name, who was several years older.

Bello’s public presence diminished in 2020 after the ACLU’s lawsuit was initially denied, which was then overturned on appeal. Further court action is pending.

However, in September, Bello was arrested and booked in Kern County on suspicion of 22 counts of drugs and firearms charges. He was released after posting a $50,000 bond.

The Public Defender’s Office, which is representing Bello in this case, declined to comment on the charges.

The Tulare County Sheriff’s Office is seeking the public’s assistance in locating Bello. They urge anyone with information on the case to contact Sgt. Clower or Detective Brad McLean at 559-733-6218.

Those who wish to remain anonymous may call 559-725-4194 or email tcso@tipnow.com.

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.

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