By Isabelle Brady
OCALA, FL– Florida resident Neville Brooks is suing the Marion County Sheriff’s Office in the wake of his detention there, claiming that the MCSO unlawfully detained him on behalf of ICE simply because he is foreign-born.
In August 2020, Brooks was detained by the MCSO on a misdemeanor battery charge. Despite his family posting his $100 bail, MCSO held him for an additional night on behalf of ICE.
According to Brooks’ lawsuit, ICE had not issued a detainer or a warrant for him. In fact, the lawsuit said, a federal immigration officer told multiple county officials that Brooks wasn’t subject to a request to be detained based on his immigration status.
Brooks’ lawsuit, filed on his behalf by American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Florida, Southern Poverty Law Center and Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, accuses the sheriff’s office of having a discriminatory policy of profiling foreign-born individuals and referring them to ICE even if they are American citizens, lawful permanent residents like Brooks, or otherwise live lawfully in the country.
Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges that the MCSO violated state law against false imprisonment and his constitutional rights through his unlawful detainment.
Brooks was also diagnosed with COVID-19 in a hospital emergency room five days after his belated release.
A staff attorney at the SPLC says that Brooks’ treatment at the hands of the MCSO is exactly why local law enforcement should stay out of immigration enforcement.
“The actions of the sheriff and his deputies provide a stark illustration of just how dangerous it is to engage local law enforcement in immigration matters,” said Victoria Mesa-Estrada, senior staff attorney with the SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project.
Mesa-Estrada added, “It is clear that Mr. Brooks was profiled and targeted as a result of their perceptions of him, not because of his immigration status.”
The MCSO has a Warrant Service Officer agreement with ICE, which allows local law enforcement to hold people on ICE’s behalf.
According to an ACLU press release, “Florida sheriffs and ICE claim that those agreements shield counties from liability even when they violate the Constitution.”
AP News reports that Sgt. Paul Bloom said the MCSO hadn’t yet been served with the lawsuit, so he could not comment. Bloom also said in an email that Florida law requires the sheriff’s office to use its “best efforts to support the enforcement of federal immigration law.”
AP News also reports that Brooks’ lawsuit seeks “undisclosed financial damages and an order barring the sheriff’s office from detaining people for immigration enforcement merely because they are born outside the U.S.”