The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to pay out $14 million to settle a class-action lawsuit related to the unlawful detention of thousands of immigrants at the behest of federal immigration authorities.
Board members offered no comment on the decision to settle Roy v. County of Los Angeles, which a county claims board had recommended for settlement in August.
The class-action suit was filed in October 2012, during Lee Baca’s tenure as sheriff, by Duncan Roy, a British filmmaker. Roy — who was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and other civil rights groups — alleged he spent nearly three months in Los Angeles County jails without a chance to post bail.
The plaintiffs alleged that in addition to denying some immigrants bail, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department held others for up to 48 hours after they were due to be released to accommodate requests for transfer to Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody.
The ACLU of Southern California said Tuesday that more than 18,500 people were unlawfully detained from October 2010 to June 2014, and pointed to the settlement as a warning to other jurisdictions.
“Let this settlement be a wake-up call to all those law enforcement agencies around the country that today continue to jail people unlawfully at ICE’s warrantless requests,” said Jennie Pasquarella, ACLU SoCal director of immigrants’ rights and senior staff attorney. “They should stop or be held liable in damages to all the people they’ve unlawfully detained.”
Under terms of the settlement, each class member is eligible to receive from $250 up to $25,000, based on how long they were held and other circumstances. Surplus funds, if any after class members are paid, will go to programs that provide legal representation to persons facing immigration consequences because of an arrest or conviction.
In 2018, a federal judge ruled that the ICE requests, known as immigration holds or detainers, were unconstitutional. The ruling also held the sheriff’s department liable for violating the Fourth Amendment rights of thousands of inmates it detained without probable cause of any crime.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte Jr. in both the Roy case and Gonzalez v. ICE also found that the department unconstitutionally incarcerated thousands of individuals with low bail amounts who would not even have been booked into jail if it were not for unconstitutional immigration detainers. The ruling entitled class members to injunctive relief and monetary damages.
Advocates hailed the 2018 decision as proof of abuses by the federal immigration department and the Trump administration. When the ruling was published, then-sheriff Jim McDonnell said the lawsuit related to past practices.
“The Sheriff’s Department does not detain any inmate beyond their normal release date regardless of whether or not there is a valid ICE detainer. This has been the standard practice since 2014,” a spokeswoman said at the time.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva ran for election in part on his commitment to remove ICE personnel from county jails. In April, in response to the coronavirus, he implemented a moratorium on transfers to ICE custody during the pandemic. He has since made that ban permanent, announcing that inmates will only be transferred under judicial warrant, not based on a civil immigration detainer.
Three groups of plaintiffs are entitled to compensation:
— those detained beyond their release date based on ICE detainers;
— those detained even though their money bail was low enough that they would have otherwise been released; and
— those who were not granted bail because of an ICE hold.
Advocates predicted that the threat of financial liability could lead to ICE being barred from jails in more American cities.
“This settlement will likely contribute to a growing trend where local jurisdictions are taking appropriate steps to kick ICE out of their prisons, jails and courthouses,” said Chris Newman, legal director at the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
Speaking to the board Tuesday, Villanueva said it was “morally indefensible” to force his department to cover the cost of the settlement, because it was related to policies that predated his tenure. He urged the board to pay the $14 million out of the county general fund, a request that was not addressed by the board.
The settlement still requires approval by a federal judge.
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