The ACLU accused Exeter police of breaking the law by arresting Bashar Awawdeh, a Jordanian immigrant who was trying to help cops solve an assault investigation.
The New Hampshire branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has settled a federal suit with three Exeter police officers accused of illegally detaining an immigrant.
According to SeacoastOnline.com, a federal judge dismissed the case last Thursday. The ACLU had requested the suit be put aside the week before. As part of an agreement, the town of Exeter agreed to pay a Jordanian immigrant—Bashar Awawdeh—just under $40,000.
Along with a five-figure payout, Exeter will also implement a new training regime for its police and law enforcement personnel.
Awawdeh, notes InDepthNH.org, was arrested last August. The Jordanian national had been trying to help police, offering to translate for another man at the Exeter Xtra Mart.
While Awawdeh was trying to help officers prepare their case against an assault suspect, police purportedly called the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency on him. Awawdeh wound up in I.C.E. detention for several weeks, before being released on bond.
SeacoastOnline adds that Awawdeh told Exeter police he’d over-stayed his work visa.
But the arrest wasn’t as straightforward as it may seem—Awawdeh had married an American citizen a month earlier. And the ACLU says that officers should never have asked about Awawdeh’s immigration status, since it had nothing to do with their assault investigation.
Some cities do have agreements with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which allow local officers to act as proxies for I.C.E. However, Exeter has no such agreement, meaning that local cops likely lacked authority to take Awawdeh in for a civil immigration infraction.
City officials said that, because Awawdeh had decided to stay in the U.S. “in violation of federal immigration laws,” Exeter officers “believed they were doing the right thing” by reporting the man to I.C.E.
“Our police department and officers were never informed by federal or state officials that municipal officers must not assist in enforcing federal immigration law violations,” Exeter wrote in a letter. “We now know and understand that is the federal government—not state and local law enforcement agencies—that must handle federal immigration law issues.”
The American Civil Liberties Union claimed that Awawdeh’s detention constituted a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. They filed the suit on his behalf, asking a federal judge to award damages for improper imprisonment.
The complaint was part of the ACLU-New Hampshire’s recently launched Immigrants Rights Project. It was, in fact, the first case settled by the state branch of the IRP.
Exeter Town Manager Russ Dean said the case has made them reconsider and update police protocol.
“[Police Chief Stephan Poulin] and the department handled the case in the best possible manner given all the circumstances, and we’ve willingly accepted the training offered by the ACLU on this topic,” Dean said.