Lake County Sheriff's Office Investigation Of Immigrant Mother's Unlawful Arrest And Detention A Whitewash, Says ACLU

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
April 2, 2009 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Florida
Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


LAKE COUNTY, Fla. – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida today charged that the Lake County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) report of its internal investigation of the February arrest of Rita Cote, a wife and mother of three small children, was a whitewash of the Department’s unlawful arrest and detention.

The report, released on Monday, March 30th, is replete with misrepresentations according to a review by ACLU attorneys.

“The report does not describe an investigation; it is simply an effort to cover up the misconduct of the Lake County Sheriff’s office,” said Glenn Katon, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Florida, who filed a habeas corpus petition on behalf of Ms. Cote while she was unlawfully detained in the Lake County Jail. The ACLU’s habeas petition led to the release of Ms. Cote and the reunification with her husband and children. “The report wholly fails to acknowledge or address the unlawful detention of Ms. Cote.”

The report contains a series of stark misrepresentations:

LCSO Misrepresentation #1: Rita Cote was detained pursuant to a lawful detainer.

Rita was held for two days by LCSO with no legal authority. A 48-hour detainer did not authorize the LCSO to hold Rita Cote in jail for eight days. Ms. Cote was arrested at approximately 2 p.m. on Monday, February 16, 2009 and placed in LCSO custody about an hour later. Even if a 48-hour detainer issued by an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) agent authorizes local law enforcement to jail someone without probable cause that a crime has been committed, the detainer for Ms. Cote was not issued until two days after the LCSO took custody of her. The I.C.E. detainer was issued at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, February, 18, 2009, proving that Rita was held for two days with no legal authority. In addition, the 48 hours expired on Friday morning, yet the LCSO continued to hold her in jail until the following Monday when ACLU attorney Katon filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus demanding Ms. Cote’s release. Late that night, or early the next morning, she was shackled and driven to the side of a road where she was transferred to I.C.E. custody.

“Without delving into the legality of the 48-hour ICE detainers, it is clear that the Lake County Sheriff’s Office completely ignored their constitutional duties and held Rita Cote for six days more than the 48 hours, with no charges against her, and without bringing her before a judge. She was torn away from her three crying children and held for several days with absolutely no legal basis. The Lake County Sheriff should have recognized that her detention was illegal and released her immediately,” Katon added.

LCSO Misrepresentation #2: Rita Cote had an active arrest warrant issued by the federal government.

If Tavares police had an arrest warrant as claimed in the LCSO report, LCSO would have had no need for an I.C.E. detainer. Arrest warrants can only be issued by officers of the judicial branch. The removal order issued for Rita was issued by an immigration judge with the Justice Department, an executive agency that cannot issue arrest warrants.

LCSO Misrepresentation #3: Rita’s case is an isolated incident of someone “falling through the cracks.”

Their have been multiple reports in which the LCSO has attempted to characterize what happened to Rita Cote as a lone mistake – that she simply “slipped through the cracks.” This misrepresentation is inaccurate and intended to diminish the systematic discrimination against Latinos by the Lake County Sheriff’s office.

An ACLU review of Lake County Jail bookings from the last two years revealed that hundreds of people were unlawfully held. “The targeting of Latinos by Sheriff Borders has been a problem for a long time and it is only due to the media attention received by the Cote family’s story that the sheriff has made a superficial effort to adopt new procedures,” Katon concluded.

“Nothing about the actions of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office indicates that they’re taking this matter seriously, which is why it is hard to believe that the recommended changes will stop the LCSO’s pattern of abuse. This is all just political theater to them,” said Robert Cote, Rita’s husband, the father of their three small children, and a Gulf War Veteran. “Sheriff Borders doesn’t appear to care about protecting people from illegal detentions — his agency has misled the public throughout this ordeal. They could have made an honest assessment about what happened to my wife and our family in their report, but that’s not what they did. Where’s the accountability? This report is an insult to me, my family and the people of Lake County. We deserve better. We deserve to be treated with dignity.”

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release