ACLU Sues Miami-Dade County for Illegally Detaining U.S. Citizen for ICE

ACLU Sues Miami-Dade County for Illegally Detaining U.S. Citizen for ICE
Miami-Dade County Office of the Mayor

In January, experts from the American Civil Liberties Union and elsewhere issued Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez a stern warning: If he bowed to President Donald Trump's toothless demand to crack down on so-called sanctuary communities, they said, he'd be opening the county up to expensive lawsuits. By agreeing to start honoring ICE "detainer" requests — where the county holds people arrested for any infraction, including low-level traffic tickets, in jail on ICE's behalf for up to 48 hours — Miami-Dade would inevitably be sued when U.S. citizens were mistakenly caught up in the dragnet, the experts cautioned.

Well, they were right. Today the ACLU said it's joining with the University of Miami School of Law Immigration Clinic to sue the county after an 18-year-old U.S. citizen was detained in county jail after incorrectly being issued an ICE detainer.

“We warned the county about the dangers posed by the premature decision to cave in to the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant threats,” ACLU of Florida immigrants’ rights attorney Amien Kacou said in a prepared statement. “Miami-Dade County has long prided itself on being a place welcoming to immigrants, and should honor that legacy by joining other cities large and small across the country in refusing to serve as tools of overzealous immigration enforcement policy.”

Through a spokesperson, the mayor declined to comment. But even before today's lawsuit, the Trump administration already succeeded in making Gimenez and the nine county commissioners who later ratified his policy look like buffoons. This past April 25, a federal judge threw out the executive order that Gimenez cited in January, making the entire policy meaningless. Gimenez said the county needed to act in order to prevent the Trump administration from stripping Miami-Dade County of federal transportation funds, but when Trump revealed his budget proposal later in the year, it asked Congress to strip Miami-Dade of that funding anyway. Gimenez has gained nothing from this move so far except a lawsuit.

According to the legal complaint, the plaintiff, Garland Creedle, was born in Honduras but held U.S. citizenship because his father was an American citizen when Creedle was born. (This is the same law that allowed Ted Cruz to run for president despite having been born in Canada.) Creedle came to the United States from Honduras in 2015; ICE tried to deport him April 28 of that year. But two days later, an immigration judge ruled he was an American citizen and terminated those proceedings.

This past March 12, Creedle was arrested on an alleged domestic violence charge. It was dropped and never prosecuted. But when the county fingerprinted him, an ICE detainer popped up onscreen, claiming there was a "biometric confirmation" that he was a "removable alien" under U.S. law. The county threw him in jail despite the fact that he'd committed no crime.

"The detainer did not allege probable cause to believe that Mr. Creedle had committed any crime," the lawsuit says. "Nor did the detainer form state facts amounting to an individualized determination that there was probable cause to believe that Mr. Creedle was removable from the United States, or that there was reason to believe that Mr. Creedle posed a risk of flight. The detainer listing Mr. Creedle as a subject was not supported by a warrant or any other probable cause determination by a detached and neutral judicial officer. Nor did it include any individualized assessment of Mr. Creedle’s risk of flight."

Documents attached to the lawsuit show that Creedle clearly told Miami-Dade County that he was an American citizen. But the county let him spend the night of March 13, 2017, behind bars anyway. According to the suit, Creedle posted bond, but was still forced to spend a night in jail before officials interviewed him, realized they'd screwed up, and let him out.

Creedle is now suing for violations of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unlawful searches and seizures, and the 14th Amendment, which gives all U.S.-born or naturalized citizens the same rights as all others. Creedle also alleges the county broke Florida's false imprisonment law too.

"Pursuant to its policy of honoring ICE detainers, Defendants held Mr. Creedle after he was no longer in lawful custody on state criminal charges," the lawsuit says. "The Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause includes the 'right to be free from continued detention after it was or should have been known that the detainee was entitled to release.'"
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.