Tucson police illegally detained a man for about an hour only to turn him over to the Border Patrol, the American Civil Liberties Union says in a complaint.
In its second immigration-related notice of claim against the Tucson Police Department in less than four months, the ACLU alleges that the implementation of Arizona’s SB 1070 law “continues to result in the violation of people’s constitutional rights.”
The most contested section of SB 1070 that was not blocked by the courts requires local police to check the immigration status of someone they stop for another reason if they become suspicious the person may be in the country illegally. That part of the law, however, has been interpreted and applied in different ways by different departments. An Arizona Daily Star analysis found that agency practices vary widely.
The police report was not available Tuesday, but according to the claim sent that day, Jesus Reyes Sepulveda was driving on Campbell Avenue on Jan. 26 when a police officer pulled him over at about 11 p.m.
The officer didn’t tell him why he was being stopped, the claim says, but asked for his driver’s license, insurance and registration.
Reyes Sepulveda was driving on a suspended driver’s license — a misdemeanor criminal offense — for unpaid traffic citations and expired insurance.
Officer Dyanna Hicks said he was going to be cited and released, and told him to call someone to pick him up since his vehicle would be towed, the claim said. But another officer, Kayla Conyer, called dispatchers to do an immigration check and, per their supervisor’s direction, asked the Border Patrol to respond.
The ACLU alleges that Reyes Sepulveda’s car was searched without his consent and that he was handcuffed and taken to a police station on South Park Avenue, where plainclothes Border Patrol agents picked him up.
Driving on a suspended driver’s license is an offense for which the person can be arrested, even if he is cited and released. TPD Chief Roberto Villaseñor interpreted SB 1070 to require an immigration check on everyone the department arrests, without the need to have reasonable suspicion the person is in the country illegally.
The ACLU said Reyes Sepulveda’s detention was extended beyond the time reasonably needed to complete the original purpose of the stop.
“They could cite and release, and they indicated they were going to,” said James Lyall, an ACLU attorney in Tucson. The decision to then transport him “is extending the stop for the purposes of an immigration detention, and that is expressly prohibited.”
Reyes Sepulveda would settle for $250,000 in addition to reasonable costs and attorney’s fees, but he is willing to negotiate, Lyall said.
“This is a very common story in Southern Arizona, one that we encounter on a regular basis that raises serious constitutional concerns,” he said.
Tucson has 60 days to respond. City attorneys did not immediately return calls Tuesday for comment.
A notice of claim is a precursor to a lawsuit against a government, and the ACLU still hasn’t heard back on the first SB 1070-related claim it filed against the department, though the waiting period has lapsed. The ACLU is considering its options and hasn’t ruled out litigation, Lyall said Tuesday.
In April, the group alleged that officers engaged in racial profiling and illegally detained two immigrants during an Oct. 8 traffic stop. The incident drew dozens of protesters in an impromptu effort to stop Border Patrol agents from taking the driver and passenger.
The ACLU’s primary goal is to vindicate its clients’ rights, Lyall said, but it also hopes to convince local governments that they can and should take steps to mitigate the harms of SB 1070.
Last month, South Tucson, the first city to be legally challenged for its implementation of the immigration law, reached a deal with the group.
Under the approved terms: Officers must receive training within 30 days; the city may contract with another agency for fingerprinting services so long as it agrees with the immigration policy’s contact guidelines; the immigration policy must be widely available; and the complaint process must be “clear and consistent and easily accessible to the public.”
The South Tucson Police Department had been accused of racial profiling and the illegal detention of an immigrant-rights activist who was transported to the Border Patrol headquarters after he showed up at the scene of a domestic-violence investigation and did not leave immediately after an officer asked him to.