The settlement could provide lawmakers the impetus to pass a bill to limit law enforcement partnerships with U.S. Custom and Immigration Enforcement and other federal agencies.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland on Thursday settled a lawsuit — the second in less than a decade — that accused the Frederick County Sheriff of discriminatory policing practices.
Sara Medrano, a Latina resident of Frederick County, and the Resources for Immigration Support and Empowerment Coalition resolved a civil suit with the county and its sheriff, Chuck Jenkins. The initial complaint against Jenkins and his deputy sheriffs was filed in July 2019, in which Medrano claimed that she and other Latino immigrants living in Frederick were subject to "unconstitutional interrogation, seizure, and detention based solely on their race and/or ethnicity," according to court documents.
"It's not right what they did to me," Medrano said in a statement. "I believe there is racism within the police force. It is not just what they are doing against Hispanic people. We are all equal in this country."
Medrano received $25,000 in damages and a letter of apology from Jenkins. The county also agreed to pay the plaintiffs $100,000 in costs and attorneys' fees.
"Today's settlement is a breath of fresh air and accountability for the misconduct of the sheriff's office against Ms. Medrano and other immigrants in Frederick County," ACLU Attorney Nick Steiner told reporters during a virtual press conference Thursday.
The incident that spawned the lawsuit occurred while Medrano was driving along Route 15 with her two daughters and two infant granddaughters in July 2018. Frederick County's Deputy Sheriff Brian Mothershead pulled them over, saying Medrano's tail lights were not working. (It was later uncovered in court that the tail lights were working.) Mothershead requested Medrano's license and registration; she complied and asked for a Spanish-speaking deputy.
Deputy Sheriff Randy Barrera arrived, explained the reason for the stop, and began asking questions about her citizenship status.
"Questions that a local law enforcement officer has no business asking," Steiner told WDVM in July 2020. "She, while there pulled over on the side of the road, was terrified that at that moment she was going to be taken away from her family."
Deputies told her she couldn't leave because she had a problem with her immigration status, and attempted to have agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrest her. ICE agents said they would not arrest her.
Jenkins, who's been in the spotlight in the past few years for his views on immigration policy, asserted that questions about citizenship only occur during processing at the county's detention center. Frederick is one of two counties in the state that continues a program that partners U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement with local county detention officers to identify and remove undocumented immigrants from the country — it's formally known as the 287(g) program.
A spokesperson for Jenkins said he was not able to respond to comment Thursday before this story's publication. In his apology letter to Medrano, Jenkins wrote, "the deputies were not properly trained at that point in time, resulting in a lack of understanding concerning policy and proper procedure in handling ICE warrants and orders of deportation."
Jenkins also wrote in the letter that he has worked to train his deputies regarding the county's ICE policies and procedures.
Steiner says the settlement also included a commitment to make sure all sheriff's deputies are properly trained on all policies and procedures "that would prevent any kind of hold or detention or arrest based on any kind of immigration related issue."
This isn't the first lawsuit claiming discriminatory policing against the county sheriff. In 2013, a federal judge ruled that the county's sheriff illegally detained and arrested Roxanna Orellana Santos, an undocumented immigrant, who was approached, questioned, detained, and arrested while she sat outside in the employee parking lot during her lunch break.
Steiner says he's hopeful the Trust Act — a bill being introduced in the state legislature this year — will help prevent the kinds of behavior Medrano and Santos experienced. The act would limit law enforcement partnerships with ICE and other federal law enforcement agencies, and would cancel the 287(g) program.
This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.