Friday, December 7, 2018

Sheriff Elder loses court case regarding ICE holds

Posted By on Fri, Dec 7, 2018 at 12:35 PM

click to enlarge The Criminal Justice Center in El Paso County can't legally hold people for ICE authorities who are entitled to post bond, completed their sentences or otherwise resolved their criminal cases, a judge ruled Dec. 6. - COURTESY EPSO
  • Courtesy EPSO
  • The Criminal Justice Center in El Paso County can't legally hold people for ICE authorities who are entitled to post bond, completed their sentences or otherwise resolved their criminal cases, a judge ruled Dec. 6.
El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder lost a court case on Dec. 6 when a state district judge ruled against his contention that he could legally hold people in jail at the request of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

Judge Eric Bentley had previously issued a permanent injunction in March against Elder to bar him from holding inmates for ICE. Elder sought to appeal that ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.

The ruling issued on Dec. 6 is an order granting the ACLU of Colorado's motion for summary judgment, laying to rest the issue locally. However, Bentley notes in his ruling the lawsuit is a "case of first impression," meaning there's no precedent. In fact, Elder and the Teller County Sheriff's Office were the only ones in Colorado to continue ICE holds after the ACLU asked them not to. The Teller County case is pending after a different judge ruled in favor of the sheriff.

Hence, Bentley writes, "Resolution of one of these cases by a higher court is needed in order to provide certainty in this area to Colorado’s sheriffs and the immigrant population."

Jackie Kirby, spokesperson for the Sheriff's Office, tells the Indy, "We have not held any detainees in the jail since the March injunction and do plan to appeal." She says that will be the only statement from the office.

Meantime, the ACLU is heralding Bentley's decision as a win, and issued this news release:

DENVER – State District Court Judge Eric Bentley issued a final ruling last night barring El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder from holding people in jail at the request of federal immigration enforcement (ICE) after they have posted bond, completed their sentence, or otherwise resolved their criminal case.

“In issuing a very thorough final ruling that concludes the proceedings in state district court, Judge Bentley explained that Colorado sheriffs have no legal authority to enforce federal immigration law by holding individuals at the request of ICE,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein. “The court ruled that when individuals have posted bond or resolved their criminal case, sheriffs have a clear legal duty to release them.”

ACLU of Colorado filed a class action lawsuit last February arguing that Sheriff Elder had unlawfully imprisoned dozens of individuals for days, weeks, and even months, without a warrant, without probable cause of a crime, and without any other valid legal authority, solely on the ground that ICE suspected that they were subject to deportation.

In March, Judge Bentley issued a preliminary injunction finding that the prisoners held by Sheriff Elder would suffer irreparable harm by continuing to forfeit their liberty while the case proceeded. The court later certified the case as a class action. Last night’s ruling makes the injunction permanent and orders Sheriff Elder to cease the illegal practice of holding prisoners for ICE. It also declares that Sheriff Elder’s practices violate three separate provisions of the Colorado Constitution.

“Beyond finding that holding individuals for ICE is unconstitutional, the court also noted a complete lack of evidence to support Sheriff Elder’s claim that the practice promotes public safety,” said ACLU Staff Attorney Arash Jahanian. “The court cited a declaration by the Colorado legislature that public trust is undermined when local law enforcement agencies participate in federal immigration enforcement. Members of the community do not report crimes when they fear it will lead to detention and deportation rather than protection. Local law enforcement’s participation in ICE’s deportation scheme harms, not promotes, public safety.”

In 2014, ACLU of Colorado wrote to Colorado sheriffs explaining that when they hold a prisoner on the basis of ICE detainer requests, they are making a new arrest, without legal authority. The ACLU then negotiated a $30,000 settlement with Arapahoe County on behalf of Claudia Valdez, a domestic violence victim who was held for three days after a judge ordered her release because the jail honored a detainer request from ICE.

Within a few months, every Colorado sheriff receiving the ACLU letter declared that they would not hold prisoners for ICE without a warrant signed by a judge. By the end of 2016, more than 500 state and local law enforcement agencies around the country were declining to hold prisoners on the basis of ICE immigration detainers and ICE administrative warrants.

In 2017, the sheriffs in El Paso County and Teller County broke from the other sheriffs in the state and began honoring detainer requests again. ACLU of Colorado filed lawsuits against both counties. The lawsuit against Teller County is currently pending.

In addition to Silverstein and Jahanian, the legal team includes ACLU Cooperating Attorney Steve Masciocchi of Holland & Hart, LLP. 

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