Judge dismisses lawsuit against sheriff, county

A federal judge has thrown out a $1 million discrimination lawsuit filed by Salvadoran native Roxana Orellana Santos against Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins, two deputies and the Board of County Commissioners.

“I’m very pleased,” Jenkins said Tuesday, hours after he learned of the move by U.S. District Court Judge Benson Everett Legg. “It’s a huge decision.”

Legg granted a summary motion by the defendants and ruled that Santos’ Fourth Amendment and due process rights were not violated when she was detained Oct. 7, 2008, by sheriff’s deputies Jeffrey Openshaw and Kevin Lynch near Evergreen Square on Buckeystown Pike, said Jenkins and Santos’ attorneys.

Jose Perez, a lawyer with LatinoJustice PRLDEF who, along with immigrant advocacy group CASA de Maryland, represents Santos in the case, said he respectfully disagreed with the decision.

“We’re still reviewing and digesting the court’s decision in order to determine what steps, if any, we may take,” he said.

Santos’ lawyers have said she was eating lunch when the two deputies saw her, stopped their car and questioned her about her immigration status, even though she had broken no laws. Jenkins has said Santos tried to hide from deputies, which prompted a request for her identification. Deputies then learned Santos was wanted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on a deportation warrant, he said.

Perez and Santos’ CASA attorneys have said the deputies — encouraged by a 287(g) agreement between the sheriff’s office and ICE that allows local law enforcement to enforce parts of federal immigration law — overstepped their authority and improperly detained Santos, in part because of her race and ethnicity.

Jenkins reiterated Tuesday his statements that Santos’ arrest had nothing to do with the 287(g) program and that the deputies were not discriminating against her.

“I think this has a potential to be a landmark case nationwide,” he said.

Other police agencies across the country involved in similar 287(g) agreements were closely watching the outcome of the case, Jenkins said.

Zorayda Moreira-Smith, a CASA staff attorney who represented Santos, said regardless of what steps she and other attorneys take in this case, she believes 287(g) and similar immigration enforcement programs — such as Secure Communities — create a climate of racial profiling and undermine local communities’ trust in police.

“We will still continue to battle for the elimination of 287(g) programs and Secure Community programs,” she said.

In October, ICE stayed a deportation order for Santos until Sept. 29, according to her lawyers, who had argued she should be given relief under an Obama administration announcement that it would review removal proceedings under certain circumstances, including for parents of children who are U.S. citizens.

Santos, in her early 30s, has a young son, her lawyers have said.

Perez said Tuesday the court decision may have an impact on whether Santos can remain in the country.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up