20-year-old Jose Roberto Hernandez-Penal. Credit: Montgomery County Police

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has issued an immigration detainer for Jose Roberto Hernandez-Espinal, the Hyattsville man who was arrested May 16 and accused of sexually assaulting and robbing a woman who was eating lunch with a friend on the Northwest Branch trail in Silver Spring.

A Montgomery County Police spokesperson said the department does not deal with issues related to immigration.

Hernandez-Espinal, 20, was charged with first-degree rape, second-degree assault, armed robbery, kidnapping and weapons related charges.

An ICE spokesperson confirmed that Hernandez-Espinal is an El Salvadoran national and “unlawfully present noncitizen” and entered the United States in May 2013 through Brownsville, Texas without inspection.

Hernandez-Espinal was ordered a “Final Order of Removal” in absentia by an immigration judge on Sept. 15, 2014, and again on April 6, 2023, according to the spokesperson. They did not provide the details behind his removal orders.

On May 18, ICE lodged an immigration detainer with the Montgomery County Detention Center for Hernandez-Espinal.


There is a discrepancy in Hernandez-Espinal’s last name. Montgomery County Police have recorded his last name “Hernandez-Penal.” ICE has recorded his last name as “Hernandez-Espinal.” MoCo360 is using the name on ICE records.

An immigration detainer is a request from ICE to state or local law enforcement agencies to notify ICE before a removable noncitizen is released from their custody. Detainers request that state or local law enforcement agencies hold custody of the noncitizen for a period no more than 48 hours after the time the individual is planned to be released. This allows ICE and its Removal Operations to obtain custody of the individual and proceed with removal processes.

The ICE spokesperson did not readily provide details behind Hernandez-Espinal’s case and how he was able to avoid the removal orders.


According to the Center for Immigration Studies, Montgomery County is considered to be a “sanctuary county,” which means they typically do not honor ICE detainers.

Montgomery County Police spokesperson, Cassandra Tressler, told MoCo360 that MCPD is unfamiliar with Hernandez-Espinal’s immigration status, which is enforced by federal law enforcement authorities. She said that MCPD does not deal with issues related to immigration, and did not explicitly say if they will or will not honor the detainer.

Hernandez-Espinal was set to go on trial in the Montgomery County District Court on Feb. 3 on misdemeanor charges of malicious destruction of property and charges related to theft but failed to appear in court.


He is set for trial on July 3 and is being held without bond.

On May 16 at the Northwest Branch trail in the 10700 block of Columbia Pike, at approximately 2:40 p.m. Hernandez-Espinal approached two women with a machete and took their phones, police allege. He then separated the two women, and once he had isolated one of them, he sexually assaulted her, according to police. Police say the woman believed she was going to die.

Police said they located both women in the trailhead parking lot and transported one to the Shady Grove Medical Hospital for a sexual assault forensic examination.


Hernandez-Espinal was arrested after a manhunt that involved the help of a state police helicopter, a canine unit from the county sheriff’s office and park police. After his arrest, he “made statements of admission” for the crime, charging documents state. 

Detectives are urging anyone who may be a victim of sexual assault by Hernandez-Espinal to come forward and contact the Special Victims Investigation Division (SVID) at 240-773-5050 or Crime solvers of Montgomery County at 1-866-411-8477. Callers can remain anonymous.