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Verdicts & Settlements

Los Angeles County to Pay $14m to Detainees Illegally Held Due to Immigration Investigations

— October 15, 2020

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva expressed disappointment that the funds would be cut from his office’s budget, since many of the offenses were committed by his predecessors.

Los Angeles County will pay $14 million to settle a lawsuit alleging that the sheriff’s department held detainees beyond their scheduled release dates due to immigration investigations.

The Washington Post reports that the county’s five-member Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to approve the payment on Tuesday.

However, the settlement will have to be approved by the judge overseeing the case. If approved, former county detainees could receive anywhere between $250 and $25,000 each, depending on a number of factors including the time they spent illegally detained.

Any unclaimed money, adds the Post, will be deposited into a fund which will help undocumented immigrants fighting deportation to pay their legal fees.

So far, attorneys working on behalf of the class have yet to identify everyone who may be eligible for a payout. In many cases, affected claimants have already been deported to countries including Mexico, Honduras, and El Salvador.

Image of police cars of the Los Angeles County Sheriff
Police cars of the Los Angeles County Sheriff; image courtesy of James via Wikimedia Commons,

According to The Los Angeles Times, more than 18,500 people were illegally held beyond their release dates—sometimes for days, weeks, or months. In each case covered by the class action, detainees were kept imprisoned on account of requests filed by the Immigration and the Customs Enforcement agency.

While the sheriff’s department agreed to stop honoring ICE detainers after 2014, immigration advocates and attorneys say the county’s decision to settle is nonetheless a victory.

“It should send a very strong message to law enforcement agencies around the country who continue to blindly comply with ICE’s requests that are patently unlawful,” said American Civil Liberties Union attorney Jennie Pasquarella.

Lindsey Battles, another attorney involved in the case, said the county sheriff’s department had “callously denied immigrants constitutional protections that universally apply to all other jail detainees—including the right to post bail and the right to be released quickly from custody under the same terms as any other arrestee or detainee.”

California, notes The Washington Post, has long enforced a set of statewide “sanctuary” laws, which prohibit local law enforcement agencies from cooperating with federal immigration agencies.

Although California’s sanctuary-style statutes have been criticized by the Trump administration and United States Department of Justice, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the state’s laws can stand.

ICE, says the Post, did not respond to requests for comment.

However, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has expressed regret that the $14 million settlement will be paid by cutting his department’s budget rather than disbursed from the county’s general fund—in large part because past sheriffs and corrections officials, rather than Villanueva’s administration, were responsible for the violations.

“I kicked ICE out of the jails, I banned all transfers of inmates to the custody of ICE,” Villanueva told the Board of Supervisors in an earlier meeting. “It’s morally indefensible to slap the current sheriff’s department in 2020 with the mistakes of previous sheriffs and previous boards of supervisors.”

Both the Post and Los Angeles Times observe that many of the offenses detailed in the lawsuit were committed by former sheriffs Leroy “Lee” Baca and Jim McDonnell.

Baca is currently serving a three-year sentence in federal prison for obstructing an investigation into his agency.


LA County Agrees to $14 Million Payout After Deputies Improperly Denied Immigrants Bail at Request of ICE

L.A. County to pay out $14 million over unlawful immigration holds

Los Angeles County votes to pay $14 million to former immigrant detainees

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