ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A lawsuit was settled by a Peruvian man who alleged police officers in a city north of Anchorage wrongfully detained him over his immigration status after he tried to break up a bar fight, the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska announced Tuesday.
In exchange for dropping his lawsuit against the city of Palmer and members of its police force, Alex Caceda received $50,000, a written apology from the city, and changes to police procedures regarding immigration detainers and warrants.
Procedural changes include an acknowledgment "that unauthorized presence in the United States is not a crime" and enforcement is reserved for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, according to the ACLU.
The lawsuit, which challenged the authority of local law enforcement to make civil immigration arrests, said Caceda was helping provide security at a bar in Palmer in August 2017 when a fight erupted. Caceda, whose full name is Andres Alexander Caceda-Mantilla, tried to help a female bartender who was being attacked, and was assaulted by three men, according to the lawsuit.
"We're hoping that this sends a message to all the local law enforcement agencies across the state that they have to respect immigrants' rights no matter what ICE tells them," ACLU spokesman Casey Reynolds said of the recent settlement. "They still have to follow the law."
Palmer Police Chief Lance Ketterling declined to comment. Requests for comment from Michael Gatti, an attorney who represents Palmer, were not immediately returned.
Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has adopted tougher policies for who is targeted for deportation. In other parts of the country, the ACLU and other groups have challenged local agencies that cooperate with federal immigration authorities in ways they deem inappropriate.
According to the Alaska lawsuit, when police arrived at the bar, the three men involved in the fight were handcuffed, and Officer Kristi Muilenburg questioned Caceda and the bartender. Muilenburg, who was named in the lawsuit, asked Caceda if he was from Alaska and if he had an Alaska driver's license. She asked a dispatcher to contact federal immigration officials after Caceda said he was from Peru and produced his passport as ID.
According to the ACLU-Alaska, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency suggested detaining Caceda. A video released by the ACLU shows arrest footage where Muilenburg tells Caceda she didn't have a choice in the arrest.
"This is the federal government that's wanting you arrested. Not me," the officer says.
"Like a criminal?" he asks. "Yep," the officer says. "You're a criminal in the United States right now."
Caceda is married to a U.S. citizen, but he "did not have legal immigration status at the time of this incident," according to the lawsuit. He was held two nights in local custody and two nights in ICE custody before he was released, according to Reynolds. He said he was released after ICE reviewed his file and his eligibility.
An email and phone message sent to ICE representatives were not immediately returned.
He needed eight stitches after suffering injuries to his head and face.
Caceda has followed through on his promise to federal officials that he would apply for a visa sponsored by his wife that would make him eligible to seek status as a permanent resident, Reynolds said.
The men who struck Caceda were not prosecuted, according to the lawsuit.