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Class Fights L.A.’s ‘Immigration Holds’

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Los Angeles County and its Sheriff Lee Baca unconstitutionally deny bail to thousands of people who are placed on federal "immigration hold," a class action claims in Federal Court.

Five named plaintiffs, including filmmaker Duncan Roy, claim that people eligible for bail are often detained on the hold for 48 hours or more, even after charges against them are dropped.

The defendants use immigration holds, aka immigration detainers or ICE holds, (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to detain thousands of people "beyond the time that state law mandates that they be released," according to the complaint.

"Although these inmates are presumed to be innocent and are eligible for bail, LASD has, until this week, forced them to languish in jail while they await trial - at the cost of their jobs, their reputations, and their family and community ties," the complaint states. "This prolonged pretrial detention also coerces many to take plea deals they would not otherwise accept because it is the only way to secure their rapid release from jail."

The Sheriff's Department has said it did not intentionally deny bail to inmates with immigration holds, and it would change its policies to make it clear that those holds do not prevent inmates from posting bail for charges in California, the complaint states in a Page 1 footnote.

"LASD further agreed to 1) promulgate a policy that makes clear that the existence of an ICE hold does not provide a basis to prevent the posting of bail on any pending criminal charge, and 2) notify LASD employees of this policy, and 3) review its database systems to determine whether they could modify the 'no bail' notation it places on the files of persons with immigration holds," according to the footnote.

A "no bail" notation is put onto the record of any detainee with an immigration hold, but the Sheriff's Department said it will look into modifying the "no bail" notification on inmate files, the complaint states.

More than 19,700 people have been unlawfully detained past their release date, burdening an already overcrowded jail system, according to the complaint.

The complaint estimates that 14 percent of the jail population are inmates with immigration holds, and 43 percent of those inmates were charged with minor offenses.

It costs $100 to $150 per night to keep an inmate in a county jail, the complaint states.

"Even as pressures on the jail population mount, Sheriff Baca has expressed his strong desire to stop housing inmates in Men's Central Jail because it is an archaic and dangerous facility," according to the complaint. "The past practice of keeping inmates in jail who want to post bail, and the ongoing practice of holding them for 48 hours or more after they are otherwise entitled to release, is inconsistent with the County's efforts to manage its jail population and close Men's Central Jail, and is a waste of taxpayer money."

Lead plaintiff Duncan Roy, 52, a British film director, claims he was detained for 89 days, spending part of the time in the "'gay dorm'" of Men's Central Jail.

Though he suffers from prostate and colon cancer, Roy says, the Sheriff's Department refused his request to monitor his cancers.

According to the complaint: "On November 15, 2011, LASD arrested Mr. Roy in Malibu, California on an extortion charge for threatening to blog about an allegedly fraudulent real estate deal. LASD booked him into the custody of the Lost Hills Station in Malibu.

"After booking, Mr. Roy was eligible for release on bail at $35,000 according to the Los Angeles County bail schedule. Within hours of his arrest, a bail bondsman traveled to the Station and attempted to post bail for him. The jailer refused to accept the bond, stating that Mr. Roy was going to have an immigration hold lodged on him. Hours later, ICE lodged an immigration hold. LASD coded Mr. Roy's inmate information as 'no bail.'

"The bail bondsman again attempted to post the bail bond but the jailer refused to accept it, stating that he could not post bail because Mr. Roy had an ICE hold.

"At arraignment on the charge, a judge approved Mr. Roy's bail at the $35,000 amount. Afterwards, LASD transferred him to Men's Central Jail. The bail bondsman again attempted on multiple occasions and over the course of multiple days to post bail for Mr. Roy, but each time LASD personnel refused to allow him to post bail for Mr. Roy. LASD personnel stated that they could not accept the bail bond because of the immigration hold lodged against Mr. Roy.

"LASD also prevented the bail bondsman from meeting with Mr. Roy, telling him that he was not permitted to visit with him because he was not permitted to post bail for him.

"Mr. Roy hired a criminal defense attorney and an immigration lawyer. Neither of them was able to persuade LASD that it was obligated to accept Mr. Roy's bail bond."

Roy says he lost the opportunity to work on a film project that was due to shoot shortly after his arrest.

The plaintiffs seek an injunction, and compensatory and statutory damages for constitutional violations, false imprisonment, and negligence.

Their lead counsel is Jennifer Pasquarella with the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.

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