Two members of the Frederick County delegation have sent a letter to the state attorney general’s office, asking for an opinion related to the 287(g) program.
Del. Karen Lewis Young (D-District 3A) said Friday that she and Sen. Ron Young (D-District 3) drafted a letter and sent it about two months ago, regarding who has oversight over the sheriff and the program.
“We wrote a two-and-a-half page request that asked for clarification on not specifically the 287(g) program ... but who governs the sheriff’s authority within the scope of decision-making on the 287(g) program,” Lewis Young said.
The 287(g) program allows U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to train sheriff’s deputies to ask about the immigration status of anyone booked into the county’s adult detention center, and begin deportation proceedings if necessary.
Lewis Young said she has not yet heard an answer from the attorney general’s office. She added the reason she and Sen. Young wrote the letter is because many of their constituents have expressed concern about the implementation and oversight of the program.
In it, they ask, among other questions:
- Is Frederick County government, through its budget process, authorizing the 287(g) program?
- Does the sheriff have the authority to enter the 287(g) agreement without the state authorizing it?
County Executive Jan Gardner (D) said Friday she stands by County Attorney John Mathias’ opinion, which states that she does not have the authority to sign that agreement.
“Under the state law and under some court decisions, the county cannot direct the law enforcement duties of the sheriff,” Mathias said in an interview earlier this month.
Mathias cited a court decision from the state’s Court of Appeals in 1989, Rucker v. Harford County, which states any changes to the sheriff’s authority must come at the state level.
“County officials may not directly abridge the functions and duties of a sheriff under the common law and enactments of the General Assembly,” that opinion states. “As our cases make clear, only the General Assembly can change the duties and functions of the sheriffs.”
Sheriff Chuck Jenkins said he believes state law gives him the right to enter into the 287(g) agreement.
“In my eyes, as the authority I have as the sheriff under the [state] constitution, I have the authority to enter into that agreement as the chief law enforcement officer and the head of corrections,” Jenkins said.
Sen. Michael Hough (R-District 4) said Lewis Young “has the right” as a delegate to ask for an opinion from the state attorney general. He added he agreed with Mathias’ opinion that neither Gardner nor any county executive would have the authority to sign the 287(g) agreement on behalf of the sheriff.
Del. Carol Krimm (D-District 3A) said she isn’t an expert on law enforcement matters, but added she too agreed with Mathias.
“I respect John Mathias, so if he says that the sheriff is an elected official and can enter into those agreements, then I would agree with his opinion,” Krimm said.
Hough noted that even if the attorney general’s opinion disagrees with Mathias’, it is not legally binding. Only a court decision would be, he added.
“It’s just simply an opinion that she asked for ... ultimately, it’s an opinion, it’s not binding, it’s not law,” Hough said.
Del. Dan Cox (R-District 4) declined to comment on the attorney general letter Friday, but added that he agreed with Mathias.
“The scope of authority of the Sheriff’s office is already guided by the law and Constitution, so apart from a court order directing otherwise the Sheriff’s interpretation governs,” Cox said in an email.