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Lawsuit accuses Maryland sheriff of racial profiling

A Maryland sheriff's office racially discriminates against Latinos and engages in localized immigration enforcement, an immigrants' rights group and an immigrant say in a federal lawsuit.

The lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore alleges the Frederick County Sheriff's Office has engaged in a pattern of discriminatory policing motivated by racial animus toward Latino immigrants and has targeted specific communities within the county. Sheriff Charles Jenkins, his office, two deputy sheriffs and the county are named defendants.

"Specifically, these actions consist of unlawful detentions during traffic stops, violations of the Fourth Amendment, harassment of immigrants based on their race and ethnicity, and unequal treatment of people suspected to have immigration issues," the plaintiffs' attorneys wrote.

The immigrant plaintiff, Sara Haidee Aleman Medrano, is in the U.S. illegally and has lived in Frederick for more than 13 years. She alleges she was profiled and illegally detained in July 2018 when she was pulled over because of an alleged broken taillight. Her daughter and two grandchildren were in the vehicle.

Medrano gave a deputy her Maryland-issued driver's license and vehicle registration and asked for a Spanish-speaking deputy. The lawsuit states she was then questioned about her immigration status by the Spanish-speaking deputy and detained for about an hour while one of the officers unsuccessfully tried to get a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer to respond to the scene.

The traffic warning she received was written four minutes after she was stopped, according to the lawsuit. Medrano argues both taillights were working that night and have not been replaced.

The lawsuit states a removal order against Medrano exists, and she "lives in fear of being pulled over again for no justifiable reason."

The American Civil Liberties Union is representing Medrano and the group Resources for Immigrant Support and Empowerment Coalition of Western Maryland. Attorneys cited other examples in addition to Medrano's case and alleged that Latino U.S. citizens have also been harassed when deputies wrongly assumed they were in violation of immigration laws.

Taylor Clarke, spokeswoman for the sheriff's office, declined to comment on the case Thursday.

Frederick County sheriff's deputies have been certified as immigration officers under a program named 287(g) for the law that created it. According to the lawsuit, the immigration enforcement duties "officially exist only within the detention center," but Jenkins sidesteps the restriction by requiring that everyone arrested by deputies be taken to the Frederick County Detention Center to check their immigration status.

The detention center collects $83 daily per immigrant it houses on behalf of ICE.

The lawsuit alleges that the sheriff's office's practices have made people in the community uncomfortable making a report when they are a victim of a crime and reluctant to file formal complaints against Jenkins.

"There are real impacts on the Latinx community when the hateful rhetoric of Sheriff Jenkins translates to discriminatory policing and racial profiling," attorney Nick Steiner said in a statement. "Members of the Latinx community are fearful of any contact with law enforcement because of the common understanding that they will question individuals' immigration status and will seek to separate people from their families on that basis alone."

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