NEW ORLEANS – The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana today announced a court-approved settlement on behalf of Ramon Torres, a U.S. citizen who was unlawfully jailed for three days by the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office on suspicion of being an undocumented immigrant because of his race. Under the settlement, Ascension Parish will pay Torres $50,000 in damages, as well as attorney’s fees.
Torres, who was initially arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, was jailed for three days because sheriff’s deputies wrongfully suspected him of being an undocumented immigrant. Torres was placed on an immigration “fugitive hold” and detained for three days by the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, even though he possessed a Louisiana driver’s license, a U.S. passport, and a Social Security card. When Torres asked why he was being held for so long, he was told by a sheriff’s deputy that “honey, it’s because you’re Spanish. They call ICE on all of ya’ll.”
“Our client Ramon Torres endured a terrifying and dehumanizing ordeal, and we’re glad he’s receiving the compensation he deserves,” said Bruce Hamilton, ACLU of Louisiana senior staff attorney. “Sheriff’s deputies had no basis to suspect our client of being undocumented—and in fact, Ramon produced voluminous documentation proving his citizenship. This incident should be a cautionary tale to every community in the state: when local law enforcement agencies take it upon themselves to enforce federal immigration law, everyday citizens pay the price.”
“Unfortunately, this is the kind of racial profiling Black and Brown people continue to face each and every day, as they are targeted, brutalized, and jailed for merely existing in public spaces,” said Alanah Odoms, ACLU of Louisiana executive director. “We hope this settlement sends a message that when local law enforcement agencies violate the rights of the people they’re sworn to serve—we will hold them accountable. Indeed, that is exactly what our Justice Lab: Putting Racist Policing on Trial, intends to do.”
“We are proud of Mr. Torres for standing up to the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, and it was an honor to help vindicate his rights and hopefully prevent this from happening again to others,” said James Bullman of Blackwell & Bullman, LLC, who served as co-counsel with Hamilton in representing Torres. “The ACLU is unparalleled in their fight to protect the constitutional rights of the voiceless.”
Last year, the ACLU of Louisiana launched an intensive litigation effort to challenge racially discriminatory policing practices and combat police violence against people of color. The campaign enlists for-profit law firms and law school legal clinics in bringing cases challenging racially-motivated stops and seizures under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and any other applicable laws. Justice Lab is actively seeking potential plaintiffs and encourages people who experienced racially discriminatory policing to contact them at www.laaclu.org/JusticeLab.