Frederick Sheriff Chuck Jenkins issued an apology and reached a $125,000 settlement in a lawsuit that accused the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office of racial profiling and wrongful detention of a Latina woman.
The Resources for Immigrant Support and Empowerment (RISE) Coalition of Western Maryland and Sara Haidee Aleman Medrano filed the lawsuit against Jenkins, his office, two deputies and Frederick County in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland in July of 2019.
Medrano was pulled over by sheriff’s Deputy Brian Mothershead July 7, 2018, for a broken taillight, though her legal counsel said it wasn’t broken. While she and her family waited on the side of the road, deputies learned she was undocumented and contacted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), though ICE agents didn’t come.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland provided legal counsel in the case, which argued there were violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As a result of the settlement, announced Thursday, the defendants will pay $25,000 to Medrano in damages and $100,000 for other costs and attorneys’ fees.
During that traffic stop, a second deputy, Randy Barrera, spoke with Medrano in Spanish, asking her about her citizenship status, the lawsuit states. Medrano was pulled over for more than an hour, the News-Post previously reported. Despite being undocumented, Medrano is still protected by the U.S. Constitution from illegal search and seizure by police, ACLU attorney Nick Taichi Steiner wrote in an email.
“Immigration violations are civil and should not be treated as anything criminal, so it’s inappropriate and unlawful for law enforcement to arrest someone on that basis,” Steiner wrote.
In a virtual news conference Thursday, Steiner called the taillight an excuse to pull over a Latina woman.
“Essentially, the sheriff’s deputies held her on the side of the road for no reason, no legal reason,” Steiner said.
Neydin Milián of the ACLU read a statement by Medrano on her behalf.
“It’s not right what they did to me. I believe there is racism within the police force,” she read. “It is not just what they are doing against Hispanic people. We are all equal in this country.”
In his written apology, Jenkins acknowledged Medrano was improperly detained by deputies who “had not been adequately trained” at the time.
“All Frederick County deputies have been properly trained and will continue to be trained in the future so that neither yourself nor others will suffer similar actions and circumstances,” Jenkins wrote to Medrano.
A spokesman for the sheriff’s office said Jenkins was unavailable for comment Thursday but planned to release a statement regarding the settlement Friday morning. On Friday, the sheriff did not issue a statement.
Also with the settlement comes a change at the sheriff’s office, according to the ACLU. There will be training put in place to prevent deputies from future racial profiling. Additionally, local meetings regarding the 287(g) program — which allows a police agency to work with ICE to inquire about someone’s immigration status — will be conducted publicly. Further, information on racial profiling and biased policing will be made publicly available, according to a statement from the ACLU.
Flor Garay, a leader with the RISE Coalition, said the sheriff’s office has exhibited a pattern of discrimination against immigrants of color, citing other instances.
In a separate lawsuit over wrongful arrest, sheriff’s deputies arrested a Latina woman on her lunch break in 2008. They questioned Roxana Orellana Santos and arrested her for an immigration issue, the News-Post previously reported. She was jailed for 35 days, attorney Brian Whittaker said. It took more than 10 years before the case was settled, resulting in an award of $100,000 to Santos and policy changes at the sheriff’s office.
The Santos settlement made it so sheriff’s deputies cannot detain or arrest people because of a civil immigration warrant and required training for deputies to understand that. The settlement and changes that came with it occurred after Medrano’s incident with the sheriff’s office.
“There are immigrants of color all across Frederick County who are being harassed by the sheriff’s office,” Steiner alleged.
To ensure the sheriff’s office follows through on Jenkins’ promises, Steiner said the RISE Coalition will continue to stay in touch with the immigrant community.
“We’re grateful that the sheriff’s office agreed to settle this case,” he said at the news conference. “We hope that similar misconduct committed by the sheriff’s office is a thing of the past, but we won’t stop holding the sheriff’s office accountable to the people of Frederick County. The immigrants in Frederick County are here to stay.”