A federal judge has kept alive a lawsuit filed by a 21-year-old Ramsey woman who accused authorities of unlawfully detaining her and turning her over to immigration authorities after her car was rear-ended last year.
In a 24-page order signed late Monday, Chief U.S. District Judge John Tunheim wrote that Myriam Parada can proceed with a lawsuit alleging that Coon Rapids police and Anoka County jail officials unconstitutionally arrested and detained her because of her “race, nationality and immigration status.”
An attorney for the Coon Rapids Police Department and the officer who arrested Parada sought to dismiss the suit, filed in March by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). It accuses the department of having “an unofficial policy or custom of arresting Hispanic motorists simply to place them in immigration custody.” Parada’s attorneys said officer Nicolas Oman let the driver who hit her, who was white, leave the scene without a citation, but when Parada could not produce a driver’s license, he arrested her. They also allege he declined to arrest at least six other people who recently could not present a Minnesota driver’s license.
Citing studies that suggested Latinos are far less likely to cooperate with law enforcement over fears their immigration status will be called into question, Tunheim issued a strongly worded analysis of Parada’s accusations Monday.
“The law enforcement conduct alleged in this case is precisely the type of conduct that further sows the Minnesota immigrant community’s distrust of law enforcement agencies,” Tunheim wrote.
The judge’s ruling comes at the early stages of the case, well before both parties begin collecting facts and interviewing witnesses. Instead, Tunheim explained that he had to consider all of Parada’s allegations as factual in order to rule on what claims can go forward in the litigation.
Still, Parada’s attorneys viewed Tunheim’s decision as a victory.
“Law enforcement agents are not above the law, and they cannot profile, discriminate, and unlawfully arrest and detain individuals,” said Teresa Nelson, legal director for the ACLU in Minnesota, in a statement.
Ryan Zipf, an attorney for Coon Rapids and Oman, who is named as a defendant, underscored that Tunheim did not make a finding of fault in the case. Zipf said Oman did not use Parada’s nation of origin or suspected immigration status as reasons to arrest her and that he was not carrying out an unwritten mandate to target anyone based on that status.
“The city has no policy to detain people based on suspected immigration status,” Zipf said Tuesday.
Anoka County and Sheriff James Stuart are also named in the lawsuit; a county spokeswoman said officials do not comment on pending litigation. Stuart told the Star Tribune in March that the county does not hold jail inmates based solely on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers but does “make timely notifications in case they wish to respond in a timely manner.”
Parada was in an auto accident while driving younger relatives home from a birthday party in July 2017. According to the lawsuit, Parada presented proof of insurance and a Mexican Consulate-issued identification card called a matricula card that listed her full name, date of birth and U.S. address. The card also had a recent photo of Parada and “security features to ensure its authenticity.” Parada and her stepfather confirmed the information on the card, and Oman ran her stepfather’s name through a database after he said he was the registered owner of the car.
Still, the lawsuit said, Oman arrested Parada because he was “unable to positively identify her” and after being told by a supervisor to bring her in for fingerprinting. She spent seven hours at the Anoka County jail before being transferred to ICE custody. Parada’s lawyers say jail officials refused to release her to relatives before ICE arrived, despite jail records having shown she was legally free to leave. She is now in the midst of deportation proceedings.
In an answer to Parada’s complaint filed in April, attorneys for Anoka County said that while deputies might “clear” an inmate for release, the inmate must still be processed through the jail’s release procedure, which depends on factors including the number of intakes and releases with priority at a given time.
Tunheim’s ruling came in response to motions to dismiss the case previously filed by Coon Rapids. Anoka County’s attorneys have not similarly asked to dismiss any claims in the case. But on Tuesday, Tunheim called allegations that officials kept Parada detained even after she was cleared for release “egregious.” The judge wrote that law enforcement cannot detain an alien on suspicion of removability without probable cause to believe a crime has been committed.
Tunheim also wrote that Oman “should know that a full custodial arrest is not necessary — and indeed not even allowed in Minnesota — to issue a citation for driving without a license.”
Oman, in court filings, has argued that the law is not clearly established that officers must accept a matricula card as a form of identification. But Tunheim wrote that Parada has sufficiently alleged that Oman’s refusal to accept her identification “was pretext for selective enforcement, which constitutes discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause.”