Florida Sheriff Worked With ICE to Illegally Jail and Nearly Deport US Citizen

Peter Sean Brown is a U.S. citizen who lives in the Florida Keys. He was born in Philadelphia and has lived in Florida for 10 years. Before this year, he had never heard of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

That changed abruptly in April, when the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office held him in jail so that ICE could try to deport him — even though he’s a U.S. citizen. The ACLU, the ACLU of Florida, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP filed a lawsuit today against the sheriff’s office for violating Peter’s Fourth Amendment rights. His experience — being locked in jail away from his family, friends, and job to facilitate an illegal deportation — is a stark example of what can go wrong when local law enforcement does ICE’s bidding. 

The saga began when Peter reported to the Monroe County Sheriff’s office for violating probation with a low-level, marijuana-related offense. Instead of quickly releasing him, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office told Peter that they were keeping him locked up to facilitate his deportation. ICE had faxed a request, known as a “detainer,” asking the sheriff to lock Peter up, so it could deport him to Jamaica.

mytubethumbplay
%3Ciframe%20allow%3D%22accelerometer%3B%20autoplay%3B%20encrypted-media%3B%20gyroscope%3B%20picture-in-picture%22%20allowfullscreen%3D%22%22%20frameborder%3D%220%22%20height%3D%22315%22%20src%3D%22https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fembed%2F7gOWs0O1gGI%3Fautoplay%3D1%26version%3D3%22%20thumb%3D%22https%3A%2F%2Fwww.aclu.org%2Fsites%2Fdefault%2Ffiles%2Fweb18-peterbrown-560x315.jpg%22%20width%3D%22560%22%3E%3C%2Fiframe%3E
Privacy statement. This embed will serve content from youtube.com.

Peter was terrified. He knew almost nothing about Jamaica, having only visited the country once on a cruise. And yet Monroe County jail officers told him he was being sent to a Jamaican prison.

Peter started frantically telling jail officers he was a U.S. citizen and asked to show them his birth certificate. He filed multiple written grievances. He called ICE, but no one ever answered the phone. His manager at work called the jail attesting to Peter’s citizenship.

Jail officers ignored him entirely. None of them helped him cancel the detainer or even looked into his claims, even though the jail’s own records listed Peter as a U.S. citizen. Many officers even mocked him, telling him in a Jamaican accent that everything was “gonna be alright.” Officers sang him the theme song to the TV show the Fresh Prince of Bel Air—“West Philadelphia born and raised”—after he repeatedly told them he was from Philadelphia and had no ties to Jamaica.

The officers told Peter that their practice was to hold everyone that ICE asks for, no matter what. In fact, the sheriff himself announced his enthusiastic support for ICE’s deportation policies in a press conference earlier this year. Following his lead, his officers told Peter that it didn’t matter what evidence Peter had. If ICE wanted to deport him, they would oblige.

After Peter filed a second written complaint, the sheriff’s office made clear it was holding him regardless. Its written response read, “It is not up to us to determine the validity of the ICE hold. That is between you, your attorney and ICE.”

Inmate's Printed Request Screenshot

This nightmare lasted for weeks, until the moment finally came when the sheriff did turn him over to ICE. Peter was taken to an ICE facility in Miami. He was days from being put on a plane when ICE finally agreed to look at his birth certificate. When ICE realized Peter was, in fact, a U.S. citizen, the agency quickly released him, leaving him in Miami without even offering transportation home to Key West.

Peter’s frightening story should make sheriffs and police chiefs think twice before agreeing to hold people for ICE. In recent years, ICE has asked local jails to hold hundreds (if not thousands) of U.S. citizens for deportation. Each one probably felt the same panic as Peter. Study after study has documented this troubling pattern of targeting U.S. citizens with ICE detainers.

By facilitating these efforts, local sheriffs are putting themselves on the hook for enormous financial liability. Dozens of them have faced costly litigation and been forced to pay six-figure settlements because of their collaboration with ICE. Monroe County is just the latest in a long string of counties that have violated people’s rights at ICE’s request. And ICE does not reimburse any of these expenses.

Funneling people to ICE also facilitates an ever-more-arbitrary deportation system. The Trump administration is targeting people who have lived in the United States for decades, sometimes their entire lives. It has plucked parents off the street in front of their children, canceled protections for people who grew up here, and taken status away from people who fled wars and natural disasters 30 years ago. Just like Peter, their families, homes, and careers are in the United States. The cruelty of deporting them is hard to overstate.

Learn more about the case

Sheriffs do not have to abet these efforts. They all have a choice. They can focus on solving crimes and serving the needs of their own communities. Or they can spend scarce time and jail space responding to ICE’s detention requests, and face whatever financial consequences may result.

Peter’s story should prompt the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office to reconsider its choice to join ICE’s runaway deportation force. It should also serve as a warning to other law enforcement to stay out of the deportation business. It’s simply not worth the financial and human cost.

View comments (85)
Read the Terms of Use

Anonymous

I would respectfully disagree with that. Arguing that they are merely the jaillor is not sufficient. Afterall, no one is forcing the Sherrif office to hold Mr. Brown in his jail. In another word, the Sherrif office is within their right to let Mr. Brown go.

Anonymous

Many local law enforcement agencies have determined it's destructive to public safety if you make immigrants too scared to report crimes.
But, I guess this sheriff DGAF.

Anonymous

Once the citizen made the complaint to the local Sheriff, the Sheriff (who was holding him in the Sheriff's jail, not an ICE facility) had a duty to investigate his claims, not just kiss it off to "you, your attorney, and ICE". At that point and any point beyond while the Sheriff continued to hold him in custody based on an illegal ICE hold of which the Sheriff had notice, the Sheriff could technically be considered to be a party to a kidnapping, especially when the Sheriff's own forms apparently listed him as a US citizen. You use the term "competent federal authorities". The problem is that history has shown that they are not "competent". This is not the first time that something like this has happened, these incidents have been well publicized, and apparently ICE isn't getting the message since it continues to make these kinds of blatant mistakes. This history should have made this Sheriff (and all Sheriffs) cautious in taking ICE holds into custody in their facilities and more responsive to this person's complaint. While primary fault for this mess clearly falls within the responsibility of ICE, the Sheriff doesn't get a free pass, especially when clearly exculpatory evidence is presented and the Sheriff clearly ignores it. The next question becomes how much money does that Sheriff's Department gets paid annually by ICE to hold ICE detainees there?

ProfoundStatement

And thus completely missing the point that these "detainers" can NEVER be legit. These are not warrants issued by a court after probable cause has been established, they're nothing more than notes from another agency asking for a favor.

They have about as much legal validity as a note from Epstein's mother.

Anonymous

If ICE is the target, then they need to do their job separately from local law enforcement and not involve them.

Mastodon

Pretty sure all law enforcement are responsible for upholding the Constitution within their jurisdictions. Moreover, the Feds can't force local and state governments to designate resources for federal activities like detaining undocumented immigrants-- it's voluntary. They volunteered to detain a US citizen and were negligent about ascertaining whether they were committing a crime in the process, which is somewhat ironic.

lee Hendrix

...Sheriffs are not necessarily experienced in law enforcement who can be bought into the position to comply with and for illicit activities conflicting with State and unconstitutional laws, of which there is no requirement for experience to elected.

Summer Winn

He had proof that he was a US citizen and they never bothered to even look at it or talk to people in his life and even mocked him and made fun of him for saying he was a citizen. Shameful. How long would it have taken to check the documentation and to verify his claims?

Jeffrey W.

They probably would have checked it if he was white.

Scott S

Screw the legal BS; common sense and professional behavior would / SHOULD have these people trying to follow the LAW and EVIDENCE to make that innocent people are not injured by their laziness.

Pages

Stay Informed