The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit against Monroe County Sheriff Richard Ramsay on Monday, claiming that he unlawfully detained and nearly deported a U.S. citizen in coordination with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
According to the suit, Monroe County resident Peter Brown turned himself into the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office on April 5 for a probation violation after he tested positive for marijuana. He thought he would be in jail at the Monroe County Detention Center only until the probation violation was resolved, and that he would then be released.
However, after the Sheriff’s Office booked Brown and submitted his fingerprints to ICE, the federal immigration agency told Monroe County that Brown was undocumented, and requested that they hold him for 48 hours until ICE agents could pick him up.
That was despite the fact that Brown insisted to Monroe County Sheriff deputies that he was a U.S. citizen, and “told multiple jail officers” that he had a birth certificate at home that proved his citizenship. The suit also says that the sheriffs department’s own files showed that he was a U.S. citizen born in Philadelphia and had a valid Florida driver’s license.
Brown attempted to call ICE multiple times from jail but was unable to reach anyone there.
After three weeks in detention, Brown then went to court for his probation violation on April 26. At his court hearing, the judge reinstated his probation and ordered an end to his detention on the probation violation. But after that, the lawsuit says, he was re-arrested by Monroe County sheriffs deputies and placed back in jail to be held for ICE.
He was then transported from the Monroe County jail to an immigration detention facility in Miami. It was there that he informed ICE agents once again that he was a U.S. citizen, and only then did agents agree to look at his birth certificate. Once they did, they arranged for his release from Krome Detention Center, confiscating all documents they had given him regarding his impending deportation.
“It’s shocking and not right that somebody can lose their human rights and have all dignity stripped away simply because someone delivers a piece of paper or signs a form,” Brown said in a statement.
The lawsuit also refers to a pilot agreement signed earlier this year between more than two dozen sheriff’s departments in Florida and ICE. The agreement pays counties $50 for each person they hold for ICE up to 48 hours.
“ICE keeps trying to make localities carry out its runaway deportation program, despite its long record of violating people’s rights and subjecting local police to financial liability,” said Spencer Amdur, and attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.
The Monroe County Sheriff’s Department did not immediately return a request for comment.