Florida resident Peter Sean Brown says he has always been a U.S. citizen, but claims he was almost deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to a new lawsuit filed by the ACLU. This plaintiff isn’t going after federal authorities, however. He’s suing the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, alleging they held him in part on an ICE detainer, and refused to look into their mistake.
The complaint describes a Kafkaesque nightmare. Brown’s attorneys say he turned himself in to the sheriff’s office on April 5 after testing positive for marijuana. This allegedly violated his probation on an unrelated charge. As part of their routine, deputies sent Brown’s fingerprints to the FBI, who in turn sent them to ICE. Immigration officials sent back a detainer form. They wanted sheriff’s officials to continue holding Brown on their behalf, the lawsuit stated.
The plaintiff insisted to jail employees he was born in Philadelphia, according to the complaint. Even his manager at his restaurant job tried to intervene, telling jail officials that Brown was a citizen. Instead, they redirected her to ICE.
The lawsuit said that the sheriff’s inmate file on Brown showed that the plaintiff was an American born in Philadelphia.
Per the complaint:
The inmate file also shows that Mr. Brown had a valid Florida driver’s license, which can only be obtained by U.S. citizens and non-citizens who have legal authorization to be in the United States.
Even so, jail officials “uniformly refused” to help him in spite of his numerous complaints, and even though he said he had his birth certificate at him, according to the lawsuit. They allegedly said they’d keep holding him until ICE revoked the detainer. Brown said he was never able to reach a live person when he twice tried calling ICE from the jail.
Monroe County officials continuing holding him even after April 26, when a judge ordered a stop to his detention on the probation violation.
A jail guard, he said, mocked him with the theme song from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, on account of Brown saying he was from Philly. Another person allegedly mocked him with a Jamaican accent, on account of the plaintiff facing deportation to Jamaica.
“Yeah, whatever mon, everything’s gonna be alright,” a staffer allegedly said.
Brown’s situation was only resolved on April 27, when according to a lawsuit, he was transferred to ICE custody, and his roommate emailed the agency his birth certificate.
“Local law enforcement throughout this country has been caught in the middle of a political argument regarding immigration,” said Sheriff Rick Ramsay in a statement provided to Law&Crime. “Although I can’t respond as much as I would like on this case given the pending litigation, I always strive for transparency with the public, which all of us here at the Sheriff’s Office serve. This was an unfortunate case of mistaken identity by ICE regarding a subject who was initially in state custody for violating probation for a felony crime of violence against a police officer.” He said that ICE claimed it had verified Brown’s identity through his fingerprints.
“It is important to also note that when an inmate is held under an ICE matter, I, as Sheriff, do not have the legal authority to release that person,” he wrote. “Though the Sheriff’s Office does not investigate immigration matters and while I cannot release detainees under ICE custody, I immediately took action when notified of this matter months ago. I ordered Sheriff’s Office detention deputies to immediately notify ICE of a detainee’s claims of citizenship and to follow up with those claims.”
He said that the sheriff’s office told Brown about the ICE detainer three weeks before the transfer to federal custody, so that Brown and his attorney could sort it out.
The complaint also mentioned an agreement between the sheriff’s office and federal agency, claiming that ICE gave the MCSO everytime deputies hold a person on a detainer.
“ICE pays Monroe County $50 a day per ICE detainee as per the Basic Ordering Agreement,” Ramsay wrote. “The purpose of the payment is to ensure that no local tax dollars are being spent on housing those in ICE custody. The payment goes directly to Monroe County and is not kept as part of the Sheriff’s Office budget.”
Note: Updated with a statement from the Sheriff.
[Screengrab via ACLU-FL]