Denies other allegations in legal response
Okanogan County has admitted that “official policy and practice” caused it to unlawfully detain an immigrant, violating her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures. But the county denied that it detains people at the request of federal immigration authorities.
In a Nov. 15 response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of Maria del Rayo Mendoza Garcia by two immigrant-rights groups, attorneys for the county denied most allegations and asked for a jury trial and for the case be dismissed.
The county admits that Mendoza was entitled to be released as soon as a Douglas County District Court judge ordered her released on her own recognizance. It also admits that Mendoza was picked up from the county jail by an officer with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). But the county denies that it detained Mendoza for additional time based on an immigration-hold detainer issued by U.S. border patrol agents.
Okanogan County is requesting a jury trial, dismissal of the case, and legal fees.
Mendoza was held last March for nearly two days in the Okanogan County jail. The lawsuit alleges that the county detained her for two extra days.
The plaintiffs are currently in discussions with Okanogan County over the next steps in the case, Aaron Korthuis, a staff attorney with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, said by email last week. The immigrant rights project and Columbia Legal Services filed the lawsuit in Eastern District of the U.S. District Court in October.
The complaint charged Okanogan County, the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office, and Tammi Denney, the county’s chief corrections deputy. In its response, the county said the doctrine of qualified immunity, which protects public officials, bars the charges against Denney.
The county admits that it received a fax from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)/border patrol containing “a statement of probable cause” that said Mendoza had “violated a civil immigration provision by being unlawfully present in the United States.” The county said the statement was signed by a border control agent, but said county officials don’t have enough information to say whether there was a warrant signed by a judge.
The county admits the detainer wasn’t based on allegations of a criminal violation.
ICE issues detainers to law-enforcement agencies notifying them that ICE intends to assume custody of an individual they believe is in the U.S. illegally. ICE asks to be notified when an individual is going to be released, and asks the jail to hold the person for up to 48 hours so DHS can assume custody, according to ICE. U.S. Customs and Border Protection and ICE are divisions of DHS.
The county admits that Mendoza suffered a loss of liberty. But it denies that she suffered emotional distress and says she is not due compensatory damages.
The county asserts that the U.S. District Court has no jurisdiction over these charges. Moreover, other parties, including the border patrol and ICE, could have completely or partially caused or contributed to Mendoza’s damages, the county said.
History of case
Mendoza was initially held in the Okanogan County jail under an agreement with Douglas County, where she was arrested for fourth-degree assault, a misdemeanor. She was in the Okanogan County jail because Douglas County doesn’t have its own jail and uses the Okanogan County jail as its primary jail, according to Douglas County Sheriff Kevin Morris.
While she was in custody in the Okanogan County jail, a border patrol agent interviewed Mendoza. After the interview, the agent issued a request that Okanogan County detain Mendoza, accompanied by the statement of probable cause alleging that Mendoza had violated a civil-immigration provision, according to the lawsuit. The plaintiffs said the statement had been signed by the border patrol agent, but not by a judge, as is required by federal law.
On the same day Mendoza was interviewed, a Douglas County District Court judge ordered that she be released on her own personal recognizance. But the Okanogan County jail faxed a “Border Patrol Hold/Notification of Release” to both U.S. Customs and Border Protection and ICE, informing them that Mendoza was scheduled to be released. It said “[t]he subject can be picked up as early as today” and “within 48 hours,” according to the lawsuit.
Okanogan County has a memorandum of agreement with federal immigration authorities that allows the county to hold someone on behalf of immigration authorities — but only if the federal agents are pursuing criminal charges and present a statement of probable cause, Okanogan County Sheriff Tony Hawley said. The county holds people for up to 48 hours while federal agents arrange transport to a federal facility, he said.
State and local law enforcement officers are authorized to detain people only for state and local offenses and are prohibited from holding people for federal offenses, according to Matt Adams, legal director of the immigrant rights project.
The case is being handled for Okanogan County by its risk-pool attorney, Menke Jackson Beyer in Yakima.