district court

SPOKANE – A woman detained at the Okanogan County Jail under a U.S. immigration detainer has filed a federal District Court lawsuit against the county.

Maria del Rayo Mendoza Garcia filed the complaint Oct. 9 against Okanogan County, the sheriff’s office and Chief Corrections Deputy Tammi Denney. The suit also names Denney in her individual capacity.

Mendoza alleges that she appeared in Douglas County District Court and was released on her own recognizance, but then spent two days in the Okanogan County Jail based on an immigration detainer from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“However, as several courts have recognized, detainer requests from DHS do not provide state or local law enforcement officers with any authority to arrest or detain individuals for immigration violations,” the lawsuit said.

Sheriff Tony Hawley said the suit has been turned over to the county’s risk manager for evaluation.

The suit challenges the county’s refusal to release individuals based solely on a hold request by immigration officials. Mendoza claims her Fourth Amendment rights were violated.

Hawley said the suit appears to be based on a Yakima County settlement in which that county agreed to change its policy on cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The change followed challenges to Yakima County’s practice of holding individuals in county custody on an immigration hold past the time they are otherwise eligible for release from jail, according to a Feb. 7 announcement from Columbia Legal Services and Northwest Immigration Rights Project.

The same two organizations represent Mendoza in the action against Okanogan County.

Hawley said Okanogan County changed its policy with respect to civil detainer requests from the Border Patrol and ICE after the Yakima County settlement. Those on federal criminal detainers still will be held.

Mendoza’s incarceration was before the Okanogan County policy change, he said.

According to the lawsuit, Mendoza was arrested March 18, 2019, by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office on suspicion of fourth-degree assault. She was taken first to the Chelan County Regional Jail.

Later that day, she was transferred to the Okanogan County Jail. Douglas County contracts with Okanogan County to hold its prisoners.

She was jailed pending arraignment before Douglas County District Court.

On March 20, Mendoza was interviewed by a U.S. Border Patrol agent at the Okanogan County Jail. After the interview, the agent issued a civil detainer request for Mendoza.

According to the lawsuit filing, the detainer form was accompanied by a statement of probable cause, written and signed by the Border Patrol agent, alleging that Mendoza violated a civil immigration provision by being in the United States unlawfully. The agent’s statement was not reviewed or signed by a judge, the filing said.

Later that morning, Douglas County District Court ordered Mendoza released on personal recognizance.

The Okanogan County Jail then faxed a Border Patrol hold/notification of release to the Border Patrol and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement informing them that Mendoza was scheduled to be released at 11:45 a.m. March 20 and that she could be picked up that day and within 48 hours, the suit said.

Denney authorized the notification, preventing Mendoza’s immediate release from jail, the suit alleges.

Mendoza was held until the morning of March 22, when a Department of Homeland Security officer picked her up.

The suit maintains that Mendoza was entitled to release immediately after Douglas County District Court ordered her release.

After federal officials picked her up, Mendoza was taken to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.

The suit alleges Okanogan County had, at the time, a policy and practice of detaining individuals “based solely on an immigration detainer from DHS (including any of its sub-agencies or departments, such as USBP and ICE), even when those individuals would otherwise be entitled to release from Okanogan County Jail.”

Mendoza claims the county relied on the Border Patrol’s detainer request to justify continuing to hold her.

Her suit alleges the county’s policy and practice violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures, resulting in her suffering damages, including loss of liberty and emotional distress.

The suit also makes the same allegations against Denney as an individual.

Mendoza is asking the federal court to declare the practice of placing immigration holds and detaining individuals pursuant to administrative requests from the Department of Homeland Security unlawful and in violation of the Fourth Amendment. She is seeking unspecified damages, attorney fees and costs, and other relief the court may award.

Hawley said he had been continuing a policy in place under his predecessor, Frank Rogers.

In March 2017, shortly after President Donald Trump began issuing executive orders concerning immigration, Rogers told The Chronicle his office did not round up individuals illegally in the country and turn them over to federal authorities.

He said his office didn’t book people solely for being in the country illegally, but “if you commit a crime, then you go to jail,” he said. “The legal status would be dealt with later by the Border Patrol.”

Hawley said that policy has changed, in that the federal detainers now must be criminally oriented and not only for an alleged civil immigration violation.

“We still work with Border Patrol,” Hawley said. “We don’t check immigration status. We don’t seek out” people to detain.

“We don’t look into people’s immigration status.”

The county’s memorandum of understanding with Border Patrol is as a housing facility, he said. Border officers do visit the jail to interview prisoners.

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