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January 20, 2022

Marion County Sheriff’s Office unlawfully detained a U.S. resident for ICE even though the agency never requested his detention

OCALA, Fla. — The American Civil Liberties Union, along with the ACLU of Florida, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, filed a federal lawsuit today on behalf of Neville Brooks, a legal permanent resident from Jamaica who was detained by the Marion County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) on false suspicion of being in the U.S. unlawfully.

The lawsuit was filed against the Marion County Sheriff and his deputies, who detained Mr. Brooks without any request or warrant from federal immigration enforcement officials. The case challenges his unlawful detention and MCSO’s discriminatory policy of detaining and referring all foreign-born individuals, or those perceived as foreign-born, to Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE), even if they are American citizens or otherwise lawfully in this country.

In August 2020, the MCSO detained Mr. Brooks for a misdemeanor, which was later dismissed. After posting a $100 bond, MCSO told Mr. Brooks that it was keeping him detained for ICE, even though the agency specifically told MCSO that he was not subject to any request from ICE to continue to hold him.

MCSO had no basis to detain Mr. Brooks. The Marion County Sheriff and his deputies never discussed Mr. Brooks’ citizenship or immigration status with him, nor did they receive any detainer or warrant from ICE. They simply profiled him and presumed he was in this country unlawfully, solely based on his foreign birth, even though jail records showed that he had a valid social security number and Florida commercial driver’s license, neither of which he could have gotten unless he was lawfully in the U.S.

Consequently, MCSO officials held the Ocala resident behind bars for an additional night in a crowded jail during the COVID-19 pandemic. Five days later, Mr. Brooks was diagnosed with COVID-19 in a hospital emergency room.

“Year after year, we see the harmful effects of Florida law enforcement’s continued overreach into immigration politics,” said Amien Kacou, staff attorney with the ACLU of Florida. “Just two years after the Monroe County Sheriff had U.S. native Peter Sean Brown nearly deported to Jamaica, now the Marion County Sheriff falsely jails a U.S. resident from Jamaica, based on nothing more than his foreign birth. In a state where at least 1 in 5 people was born abroad, this is the sad but predictable result of the proliferation of false anti-immigrant narratives and the related adoption of overaggressive measures like SB 168.”

“The Supreme Court has made clear that local officials cannot make immigration arrests on their own, or treat people differently based solely on where they were born. But that is what the Sheriff’s Office did here to Mr. Brooks. They threatened to separate him from his family and his life in the U.S., just because he was born in Jamaica. And we know that Mr. Brooks’ case is just the tip of the iceberg, with multiple U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents illegally held and referred to ICE by MCSO’s discriminatory policy,” said My Khanh Ngo, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “This case illustrates why local officials should not be in the business of immigration enforcement.”

The MCSO has a Warrant Service Officer (WSO) agreement with ICE, which purports to deputize local law enforcement to hold people for ICE. Florida sheriffs and ICE claim that those agreements shield counties from liability even when they violate the Constitution, but the WSO does not — and cannot — protect MCSO from being held accountable for its actions in this case.

“The actions of the sheriff and his deputies provide a stark illustration of just how dangerous it is to engage local law enforcement in immigration matters. It is clear that Mr. Brooks was profiled and targeted as a result of their perceptions of him, not because of his immigration status,” said Victoria Mesa-Estrada, senior staff attorney with the SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project. “This must end. When local police attempt to engage in federal immigration enforcement, it inevitably leads to racial profiling and undermines public safety.”

“Neither the states nor the federal government may keep people in this country in jail without affording them the full protections that the U.S. Constitution guarantees. These are the rights our ancestors fought and died for, and protecting these rights has been a fundamental value at Zuckerman Spaeder since the days it opened its doors to clients,” commented Zuckerman Spaeder LLP attorneys Jack F. Fernandez and Alyssa M. Howard. “We at Zuckerman Spaeder view it as our duty to hold governments at all levels to these fundamental tenets of our democracy.”

The lawsuit seeks damages and injunctive and declaratory relief for Mr. Brooks. The case, Brooks v. Woods was filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

The complaint can be found here: