Settlement in racial bias case includes sheriff’s apology

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — A Latina immigrant who said her detention during a traffic stop fit a pattern of racially discriminatory policing in a Maryland county has reached a $125,000 settlement that includes a written apology from the county’s sheriff, her attorneys said Thursday.

In his apology to Sara Haidee Aleman Medrano, Frederick County Sheriff Charles Jenkins said the deputies involved in her detention hadn’t been properly trained on policies and proper procedures for handling U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement warrants and deportation orders during routine criminal records checks

Medrano and a grassroots organization, Resources for Immigrant Support and Empowerment Coalition of Western Maryland, sued the sheriff’s office, Jenkins, two of his deputies and the county in July 2019. The federal lawsuit argued Jenkins has flouted limits on immigration enforcement duties by requiring an immigration check for everyone arrested and booked into the county jail by his office.

Fox News has previously called Jenkins one of “America’s Top 10 ‘Toughest’ Immigration Sheriffs.” Medrano’s lawsuit said Jenkins often has engaged in anti-immigrant rhetoric since his election in 2006 and “consistently uses racist dog whistles in his advocacy against immigrants.”

“His animus toward the immigrant community has manifested into policies and practices that target the immigrant community, isolating and marginalizing them as second class in violation of their rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution,” the lawsuit says.

Medrano, a native of El Salvador, had been living in Frederick County for more than 13 years and was in the U.S. illegally at the time of her detention. Her immigration status hasn’t changed since her detention, according to one of her lawyers. In July 2018, she was driving with her daughter and two infant grandchildren when a sheriff’s deputy stopped her and another deputy said she had a burned-out taillight.

Deputies detained her for more than an hour in her car while waiting for ICE to respond to an inquiry about her immigration status, her lawsuit says. Ultimately, the deputies issued her a warning for the taillight. Medrano says her vehicle’s taillights were functioning normally.

Jenkins said he recognizes that she was improperly detained for an unreasonable amount of time. The sheriff said deputies have been and will be properly trained to avoid “similar actions and circumstances.”

“Again,” he wrote, “you have my sincere apology for the events that occurred during that traffic stop and any fear that they may have caused you.”

The settlement, signed earlier this month, calls for a $25,000 payment to Medrano and $100,000 in fees and costs for her attorneys. The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland represents Medrano and the grassroots group.

ACLU of Maryland attorney Nicholas 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.

Sheriff’s office spokesman Todd Wivell said Jenkins wasn’t immediately available on Thursday to comment on the settlement.

A separate settlement in June resolved a similar federal lawsuit against Jenkins in which Roxana Orellana Santos, a native of El Salvador, said Frederick County sheriff’s deputies unlawfully arrested her while she was eating lunch on a work break and transferred her to ICE custody in 2008. The settlement called for paying $500,000 in fees to Orellana Santos’ lawyers, but the terms of any payment to her are confidential, said Brian Whittaker, one of her attorneys.

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