Court Finds Frederick County, MD Sheriff Chuck Jenkins Illegally Detained Latina Immigrant

In a groundbreaking decision, a federal appeals court found that that a state or local law enforcement officer’s suspicion or knowledge that an individual has committed a civil immigration violation without more information does not provide them with probable cause to suspect that the individual is engaged in criminal activity.

The court said the officer may not detain or arrest the individual solely based upon a purported civil violation of federal immigration law. Moreover, the subsequent issuance of an ICE detainer, after the illegal arrest and detention, “does not cleanse the unlawful seizure.”

The decision came from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Virginia, setting law for Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The decision unequivocally holds that local law and state law enforcement cannot enforce civil immigration law and found that the deputies had no legal authority to arrest or even briefly detain the plaintiff on the basis of a suspected or known civil immigration status violation.

LatinoJustice PRLDEF, CASA de Maryland and the law firm Nixon Peabody LLP in November 2009 filed a lawsuit against the Frederick County (Maryland) Board of Commissioners, Frederick County Sheriff Charles Jenkins and two deputy sheriffs for violating the civil rights of Roxana Orellana Santos who had illegally been arrested and detained by two Frederick County Deputy Sheriffs on October 7, 2008.

The complaint alleged that Santos was eating her lunch in a public area outside her workplace when two uniformed and armed deputy sheriffs approached and began questioning her. They requested that she produce identification. Upon prolonged questioning and ascertaining that she had an outstanding civil immigration removal warrant, the deputies arrested Santos and placed her in a local jail before she was transferred to the U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (“ICE”).

She was detained in a detention facility without any criminal charges for 46 days, away from her then two year old son and family before she was released. In a 2012 decision, the U.S. District Court of Maryland dismissed Santos’ lawsuit finding that the deputy sheriffs’ initial questioning and subsequent arrest on the civil immigration warrant did not violate the Fourth Amendment, a determination that was overturned with today’s ruling.

“We are extremely pleased by this ruling explicitly holding that local law enforcement cannot detain or arrest Latinos whom they may suspect of questionable immigration status,” said Jose Perez, Deputy General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

“It is apparent that the Frederick County deputies pre-textually stopped, questioned and detained Ms. Orellana Santos solely based upon her physical appearance at a time when the Fredrick County Sheriff was publicly trumpeting how many immigrants his office had arrested. This is the essence of racial profiling.”

Increased attempts by local or state law enforcement to engage in federal immigration law enforcement have been accompanied by a troubling rise in racial profiling across the country as local police who are often untrained and poorly supervised seek to discriminatorily enforce federal immigration law against those they may suspect of being without status which is often impossible to discern.

“Sheriff Jenkins declared war on Frederick County’s immigrant community and today’s decision validates the complaints of local residents who have been terrorized for simply driving to the store, taking their children to school, or, like Roxana, eating lunch,” said Gustavo Torres, Executive Director of CASA de Maryland. “We hope that policing agencies across Maryland take this decision, and the liability that may flow from similar acts, very seriously.”

John Hayes, lead counsel on the case and a Litigation Partner at Nixon Peabody stated: “At stake in this case is a matter of acute public importance. Law enforcement practices that target a group based solely their appearance have no place in America. It takes great courage and commitment for Ms. Orellana Santos to come forward in the name of equal justice under law to stop this discriminatory treatment for everyone who lives or works in the County.”

The decision upheld dismissal of the claims against Sheriff Jenkins and the two deputies in their individual capacity determining that it was not clearly established law that local and state law enforcement officers could not detain or arrest an individual based on a civil immigration warrant at the time of the underlying October 2007 encounter. The U.S. Supreme Court in its June 2012 decision finding much of Arizona’s notorious anti-immigrant law SB1070 preempted by the U.S. Constitution noted that “detaining individuals solely to verify their immigration status would raise constitutional concerns.”

The decision reverses the District Court’s dismissal against the municipal defendants and remanded plaintiff’s official capacity claims against the County back to the District Court to determine whether the deputies’ unconstitutional actions are attributable to an official policy or custom of the county or the actions of a final county policy maker.

Frederick County Sheriff Charles Jenkins upon being elected in Fall 2007 on a pro-immigrant enforcement platform entered into a 287(g) memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security permitting trained local deputies who undergo requisite training to engage in certain limited immigration enforcement.

Neither of the two deputies who arrested Ms. Orellana Santos had received 287-g training and were thus not permitted to engage in any immigration enforcement. The lawsuit was filed on the heels of the Sheriffs’ announcement publicizing that he had detained his 500th immigrant.




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