In March 2014, David Velasquez called police to report the theft of his work tools. But when Broward Sheriff's deputies arrived, he says, the cops were more concerned about his immigration status than the crime. They ended up placing him under arrest, Velasquez says — and breaking his leg while taking him into custody.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court last week, Velasquez claims the agency "had a policy of conducting federal immigration investigations of victims... in contravention of federal and state police practices at that time."
Advocates have long warned that when local cops act like immigration police, undocumented Americans will avoid reporting crimes, a concern that has reportedly only worsened because of President Donald Trump's xenophobic crackdown.
A spokeswoman for the Broward Sheriff's Office tells New Times the agency does not comment on pending litigation. Attorneys representing BSO have filed a motion requesting the case be dismissed.
According to the complaint, Velasquez and his wife, Norma Huerta, witnessed the theft from their Fort Lauderdale home March 2, 2014. When deputies arrived to investigate the incident, though, they asked Velasquez for his passport "because he was Hispanic," the suit claims. Velasquez's arrest report claims he offered a Honduras passport and ID card and then informed an officer that he had entered the country illegally.
After that, Dep. Christopher Manekas wrote in the arrest report: "I contacted Border Patrol and informed them of this information." The border officials told the deputy they would send a unit to the scene to meet with him and look into Velasquez's immigration status.
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By Manekas' telling, he handcuffed Velasquez for safety purposes because when the deputy asked him if he had any weapons, Velasquez responded, "I think I have a knife on me." As he held Velasquez's hands behind his back, Manekas wrote, Velasquez broke the hold and tried to turn his body "in an attempt to bring his closed right fist up from his waist and punch [him]." Another deputy, James Kinney, grabbed Velasquez's wrist while Manekas swept his leg, making him fall to the ground.
Velasquez, though, disputes the cops' version of events. He says he never acted violently, threatened, or assaulted the deputies. Instead, he claims he was attacked without provocation while his horrified wife called 911 again in hopes that other deputies would intervene. Velasquez was arrested for resisting arrest with violence and simple assault on an officer. He screamed that his leg was broken but was forced to walk to the patrol car and taken to jail.
Ultimately, the lawsuit alleges, Velasquez was transported to Broward General Hospital under a false name he didn't provide. His injuries required surgery.
The suit, filed by Miami attorney John de Leon, alleges violations of Velasquez's constitutional protection from unreasonable seizure and accuses the deputies of false arrest. It seeks monetary damages for Velasquez and punitive damages for defendants Manekas, Kinney, BSO, and Sheriff Scott Israel.