Family is Torn Apart After Police Responding to Domestic Assault Call Ignore Assault, Arrest Mother of Three Instead

February 23, 2009

ACLU of Florida Communications Office, (786) 363-2737 or

OCALA, Fla. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus on Monday in federal court to have Rita "Fany" Cote brought before a judge and released from the Lake County Detention Center.

Cote, a twenty-three-year-old mother of three, was arrested without charge, unjustly taken from her husband and children by Tavares Police. The police ignored a domestic violence call to which they were responding, and arrested Cote instead who couldn’t prove her citizenship, usurping federal immigration officers’ authority.

After a week, she remains illegally detained at Lake County Detention Center without charge, without a warrant against her, without probable cause and without review of her detention by a judicial officer. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a forty-eight-hour detainer for her on February 18, 2009, which has since elapsed.

"The Tavares Police ignored the law when they arrested Mrs. Cote. They did not have the authority to arrest Fany and they have been jailing her unlawfully for the past week, tearing her away from her husband and three small children," said Glenn Katon, Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Florida. "They have not charged her with a crime or brought her before a judge as the law clearly requires. Even the ICE detainer, the legality of which is doubtful at best, expired on Friday. By continuing to detain Fany without charge, the city's violation of the constitution is getting more egregious each day."

Cote's sister placed a call to 9-1-1 on Monday, February 16, 2009, as a result of a domestic assault by her boyfriend. When City of Tavares Police arrived to the Cote home, they immediately asked everyone for identification to prove their citizenship.

Cote's sister, the complaining witness, had bruises on her neck and made several pleas to press charges against her boyfriend. Tavares officers refused to remove the assailant from the home and did not follow the procedures required by Florida Statute for assisting victims of domestic violence. Instead, they arrested Fany Cote, taking her away from her family over an outstanding deportation order. In 2000, when she was only fifteen, Fany's parents brought her to Florida from Honduras without documentation. Her husband, Bobby, and their three small children, ages seven, four, and two, are all U.S. citizens.

Fany Cote has been held for a week without charge. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a forty-eight-hour detainer for her on February 18, 2009, which has since elapsed.

"As a husband and the father of her children, I'm baffled and confused about why my wife, a good mother, and a good wife, was arrested after total cooperation with the police. Why does the government feel they don't need to follow the rules?" said Bobby Cote. "She wasn't hiding and she’s not a suspect for anything. Our kids ask about their mother every night. It's very tough on our family. We're lost without her and we need her home."

The Honduran Consulate is also very concerned about the actions taken against Fany Cote. "We are worried that the Tavares Police department's arrest and detention of Mrs. Cote is unnecessary and against the law. We hope for her and her family's sake that she is released at once and given the opportunity to address concerns about her immigration status," said John DeLeon, who represents the Consulate.

A PDF copy of the Writ of Habeas Corpus can be viewed here.

ACLU of Florida senior attorney Glenn Katon is representing Rita "Fany" Cote with John Barry, ACLU of Florida cooperating counsel. Cote v. Lubins and Borders was filed in the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida, Ocala Division.

About the ACLU of Florida
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida is freedom's watchdog, working daily in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend individual rights and personal freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For additional information, visit our Web site at:

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2009 Press Releases