Settlement for woman improperly detained by Frederick Co. deputies during traffic stop

A $125,000 settlement has been reached in a 2018 traffic stop in Maryland that the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office admitted led to a woman being improperly detained over an immigration issue.

Of the settlement, $100,000 will go toward the Frederick woman’s legal fees.

On July 7, 2018, Sara Medrano was stopped on Route 15 for what Deputy Brian Mothershead said was a broken taillight on her minivan.

Medrano said that the taillight was not broken, and she argued that she was instead profiled by the deputy who pulled her over due to the color of her skin.

In court documents, lawyers for Medrano said she was then told by a Spanish-speaking deputy, who was called to the scene, that she had an immigration violation on her record. That deputy, Randy Barrera, is also accused of asking her questions about her immigration status.

Her lawyers claimed that during the stop, Mothershead made various calls, which included a call to a 911 dispatcher, who told him about the immigration problem, and a call to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, who told Mothershead they would not come to pick up Medrano.

“The deputy took it upon himself to try and get ICE to come and arrest her,” said Nick Steiner, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.

Steiner said the settlement is “breath of fresh air” for immigrants in Frederick County and includes “a commitment to ensure that it doesn’t happen again to anybody else.”

“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,” Steiner said.

The ACLU and the Resources for Immigration Support and Empowerment Coalition helped Medrano bring the civil suit to court.

Medrano, who had her daughters and young grandchildren in the car, claimed she was detained for nearly an hour during the stop, a move her lawyers argued violated her constitutional rights.

The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office does participate in the 287(g) program with ICE, but that program should only operate within the detention center.

Guidance to officers from the sheriff’s office states, “no immigration enforcement functions are conducted on the streets, in the community or places of employment.”

It also states that deputies should not ask questions in regard to a person’s lawful immigration status in the course of performing law enforcement functions.

Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins has expressed his support for the 287 (g) program in the past.

In this case, he wrote in an apology letter to Medrano, saying the actions of the deputies led to Medrano being improperly detained.

“The involved deputies had not been adequately trained at the point in time, resulting in a lack of understanding concerning policy and proper procedure in handling ICE warrants,” he wrote.

“You have my sincere apology for the events that occurred during the traffic stop and any fear that they may have caused you,” Jenkins added.

WTOP reached out to the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office but Jenkins was unavailable for comment.

It’s not the first time that the sheriff’s office has settled in a case like this.

The department reached in agreement with Roxanna Orellana Santos, a woman who sued after she was questioned, arrested and detained in 2008. In 2013, a federal judge ruled what happened to Santos was illegal, and she reached a settlement with the sheriff’s office last year.

Steiner said the ACLU is grateful the sheriff’s office settled with Medrano.

“We hope that similar misconduct committed by the sheriff’s office is a thing of the past,” Steiner said.

Medrano said in a statement released by the ACLU that what happened to her wasn’t right.

“I believe there is racism within the police force. It is not just what they are doing against Hispanic people. We are all equal in this country,” Medrano said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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