A U.S. District Court judge ruled last week that Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins is liable in the wrongful arrest of a woman that occurred shortly after the county entered an agreement to enforce federal immigration policy in 2008.
"I'm very thankful to the people who came to my defense, and am pleased to hear that the judge ruled in a way that will hopefully prevent what happened to me from happening again," said Roxanna Orellana Santos in a written statement provided by her attorneys.
A native of El Salvador, Santos was arrested by two county sheriff's deputies in October 2008 while she ate lunch outside her workplace. Santos was stopped when she appeared to try to hide from the deputies. The deputies checked Santos' ID and arrested her after learning of an open civil deportation warrant filed against her by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Santos sued the former Frederick County Board of Commissioners, Jenkins and the arresting deputies in 2009 for civil rights violations, seeking more than $1 million in damages.
The initial lawsuit was dismissed, but Santos' attorneys appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. That court found in August 2013 that the deputies arrested Santos without probable cause, a violation of her constitutional right against unlawful search and seizure.
The arrest took place approximately six months after the 287(g) program was activated in Frederick County in April of 2008. Under the agreement, trained sheriff's office employees can check the immigration status of individuals booked into the county detention center and begin deportation proceedings if appropriate.
A central argument of Santos' attorneys was that Jenkins was acting as a policymaker for Frederick County when he entered into the 287(g) program with ICE.
Judge Catherine C. Blake ruled in favor of that argument in a memorandum handed down Sept. 27 in U.S. District for the District of Maryland.
Attorneys for the sheriff's office had moved to dismiss the case against Jenkins, arguing, among other things, that sheriffs are generally considered state agents under Maryland law, therefore shielding Jenkins from being considered a county policymaker.
“The agreement reached between ICE and Sheriff Jenkins is not an exercise of state executive power. … Close inquiry finds Sheriff Jenkins as the final policymaker for Frederick County over 'the particular issue' in question — Frederick County's participation in the 8 U.S.C. 1357(g) program,” Blake's ruling reads, citing the U.S. code that outlines the powers of immigration officers.
Blake's ruling acknowledged that neither of the arresting patrol deputies was trained to act under the 287(g) program and Santos was not arrested under the agreement. Still, Jenkins knowingly overstepped the terms of the agreement when he communicated the sheriff's office's policy to deputies.
“Only officers trained and certified under the agreement were permitted to participate in immigration enforcement. Despite this fact, [Jenkins] promulgated a General Order that required all patrol officers to run warrant checks on stopped individuals, and detain any individual with an outstanding warrant, regardless of whether the warrant was civil or criminal,” the ruling states in part.
Santos' attorneys, Jose Perez and Brian Whittaker, said Blake's decision Thursday bodes well for continuing to pursue damages in trial.
"We now have the federal district court in Maryland rejecting the sheriff’s excuses, defenses of trying to absolve their responsibility for their conduct and policies," Perez said. "They are responsible, liable for their conduct in 2008."
Santos was separated from her infant child and detained for 37 days following the 2008 arrest. Her attorneys plan to pursue monetary relief for the emotional, mental and other damages Santos suffered as a result of her unlawful arrest, Perez said.
"Damages will be rewarded," Whittaker said. "The question is how much."
Santos is also pursuing injunctive relief that would prevent the sheriff's office from making future unlawful arrests. Santos' counsel indicated their willingness to discuss settlement with the sheriff's office and county.
"We would urge the county to sit down and end the fighting," Perez said. "Two courts have already spoken in this case about their liability and responsibility. It would be in everyone’s best interest to go to some kind of agreement if possible."
Multiple attempts to reach Daniel Karp with the law offices of Karpinski, Colaresi and Karp — the firm representing the defendants — were not returned as of Thursday.