ACLU Files Lawsuit Against Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

October 19, 2012

Class-Action Lawsuit Filed On Behalf of Individuals Wrongfully Detained Because of “Immigration Holds”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

LOS ANGELES - Six people have brought a class-action lawsuit against Sheriff Lee Baca and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) on grounds they are or were illegally detained.

The plaintiffs were detained for days, weeks or even months because of “immigration holds.” Sometimes called “immigration detainers,” these are notices issued by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requesting that an individual in local custody be held pending further action. Unlike warrants, they are issued without any judicial determination of probable cause, and are frequently issued in error.

The lawsuit addresses two related practices of the Sheriff’s Department:

  1. Detaining people beyond their release date solely on the immigration hold.
  2. Refusing to allow pretrial detainees to post bail to secure their release from jail if they have an ICE hold.

About 2,100 inmates each day - or 14 percent of the daily jail population - have ICE holds lodged against them in the L.A. County jails. On average, they spend nearly three weeks longer in jail than inmates without immigration holds, despite being better candidates for release or other diversion programs. In 2011 alone, LASD detained nearly 20,000 people without legal authority due to immigration holds when they otherwise would have been released from custody.

While immigration holds are requests from ICE that LASD voluntarily hold people beyond their release date, LASD treats them as mandatory orders and detains anyone subject to a hold for days after their release date. These detentions violate the U.S. Constitution and state law.

“Our Constitution guarantees that law enforcement cannot jail residents without probable cause to believe they’ve broken the law,” said Jennie Pasquarella, staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California. “But LASD holds thousands of people each year beyond their release dates, simply because ICE says they would like to investigate whether they may be removable. In this country, the government can’t lock someone in jail at the start of the investigation, it can only do so if investigates and finds good cause to do so.”

In response to a letter sent by plaintiffs’ attorneys before the lawsuit filing, LASD recognized that individuals subject to ICE holds should be allowed to post bail. It sent bulletins clarifying the rule and is revising policies and systems to prevent unlawful detentions.

“We are very pleased LASD has agreed to alter this practice in response to our demand letter, but it never should have been happening in the first place,” said Kate Desormeau, staff attorney at the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “ICE’s immigration hold practices, especially under the disastrous ‘Secure Communities’ program, have imposed serious harms upon cities and counties across the nation. But it is L.A. County that is responsible for rubber-stamping ICE’s requests and locking up tens of thousands of people without legal authority to do so.”

Lead plaintiff Duncan Roy, a noted British filmmaker, spent 89 days in Men’s Central Jail because the LASD repeatedly refused to allow him to post bail set by the court because he was subject to an erroneous ICE hold. He repeatedly made unsuccessful attempts to speak with ICE and explain that he was in the country legally and the hold was erroneous. Roy was detained in the “gay dorms,” where he was denied medical care for recent prostate and colon cancer. After nearly three months in jail, ICE lifted his immigration detainer on humanitarian grounds and LASD finally permitted his bondsman to post bail.

“It’s important that people realize that this could happen to anyone,” Roy said. “It’s not just undocumented immigrants. I’m lucky that I can get out and be heard — many of the people I met in there can’t.”

For those like Roy, who were denied the right to post bail, the suit seeks only damages because of LASD’s agreement to change its practices on bail.

In recent years, LASD has detained more individuals on immigration detainers for the purposes of assisting the federal government with its deportation efforts than any other county in the nation, and more than any other state except California and Texas.

“We call on Sheriff Baca to respect the Constitution and immediately cease detaining people on the basis of unlawful ICE hold requests,” said Jessica Karp, staff attorney with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON). “This massive unconstitutional detention is a symptom of the criminalization of immigrants, a dangerous trend that must be reversed.”

In addition to the ACLU and NDLON, plaintiffs are represented by the law firm of Litt, Estuar & Kitson LLP.

For a copy of the lawsuit, Roy v. Baca, go to: https://www.aclu.org/immigrants-rights/roy-v-la-county-complaint.

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