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Couple Sues ICE & Cops for ‘Knock and Talk’

NASHVILLE (CN) - A Latino couple says federal deportation officers and local police barged into their home without warrant on a Sunday morning in what Immigration and Customs Enforcement calls a "knock-and-talk." The couple claims ICE's "Fugitive Operations Teams" regularly, and unconstitutionally, invade homes "using the pretext of looking for a dangerous criminal alien, then making solely collateral, often race-based arrests of people they are not tasked with searching out and apprehending."

"The Fugitive Operations Teams in Nashville and across the country have a longstanding, well-documented record of conducting warrantless invasions into homes," David Tapia-Tovar and Ana Maria Vazquez say in their federal complaint.

"FOTs in Nashville and across the country rarely use administrative warrants to conduct enforcement activities. Instead, their pattern, practice, and custom, is to single out a home or area and conduct 'knock-and-talks.'

"The entry, searches and seizures that follow from these knock-and-talks are, almost always reported by FOTs as being consensual."

"In reality, FOTs have an extensive history of engaging in a pattern, practice, and custom that involves forcing entry or gaining consent through threats and coercion. Once inside, FOT agents gather subjects into a central area such as a living room and then search the entire home without a warrant, consent, or exigent circumstances. Then they arrest residents and take them to ICE administrative offices without probable cause or reasonable suspicion," according to the complaint.

Tapia and Vazquez say they were just getting on Sunday morning, Feb., 7, 2010 when ICE officers and Mount Juliet policemen banged on the front door of their mobile home. Tapia says the ICE officer did not identify himself when he pushed his way into the house.

"The ICE agent grabbed David's right arm around his bicep," the complaint states. "The agent used his grip on David's arm to spin him around and force him inside into the living room."

A second ICE officer followed the first one in, and as they forced Tapia to remain seated, they let two more agents in through a back door and began searching the house.

"No search warrant for David and Ana's home was ever presented by any of the ICE agents or the Mt. Juliet Police Department officers prior to entry," the complaint states.

"No administrative judge or judicial arrest warrant for David, Ana, or anyone else was ever presented by ICE agents or the Mt. Juliet Police Department Officer prior to entry."

The remaining officers searched the mobile home while the first officer guarded Tapia-Tovar, he says, and picked through his license.

After being asked for identification, fake documents and who else lived in the home Tapia-Tovar says he heard officers move towards the bedroom where his wife was asleep.

A male and a female officer then entered the bedroom, though he told them his wife was naked, Tapia says.

"Both Mt. Juliet Police Department officers saw Ana, undressed, though she attempted to cover herself. ...

"Both Mt. Juliet Police Department officers stood a few steps inside the bedroom watching Ana as she looked for clothes to put on. A male officer told Ana loudly, in English, to hurry up.

"As Ana came into the living room, she saw David sitting on their sofa in handcuffs, being interrogated by an ICE agent who stood over him."

After the officers demanded his wife's identification, Tapia says he asked why they were in their home.

"In reply, one ICE agent held a file folder a few feet in front of David's face. Attached to the front of the folder was a large photograph of a man of Latino appearance.

"The man in the photograph bore no resemblance to David. His skin was darker, his nose was wider, and his eyes were set differently.

"No reasonable person could mistake the man in the photograph for David."

The name on the cover of the ICE folder was different from his, Tapia says; the only similarity was that both were named David.

"One ICE agent showed the photograph to another ICE agent, and said, sarcastically, 'Looks like him, doesn't it?' The other ICE agent began laughing, and the first agent joined him in laughter," the complaint states.

Tapia says the officers took him to an ICE office where he was placed in deportation proceedings. He claims that ICE Deportation Officer Bradley Epley lied repeatedly to try to deport him.

Tapia says Epley lied when he said the officers had permission to enter his home;

Epley lied when he claimed Tapia had said he did not have documents allowing him in the United States;

"Defendant Epley also represented to the immigration court that David stated 'he had entered the United States at an unknown time of day and at an unknown location.' This, too, is an utter and transparent fabrication.

"The policy and practice of the Nashville ICE Office is to indicate 'unknown time' and 'unknown place' of entry into the U.S. when completing ICE database processing of suspected aliens ICE agents encounter," the complaint states.

It continues: "Defendant Epley represented to an immigration court that David just happened to use the precise words that are employed according to ICE Nashville's standard operating procedure.

"Finally, Defendant Epley did not report any exigent circumstance to the immigration court that would have justified the warrantless, nonconsensual search of David and Ana's home."

The couple seek damages for constitutional violations. Defendants include ICE Deportation Officer Bradley Epley, the Nashville Fugitive Operations Team, Deportation Officer Lee Worsham, Mount Juliet Police Sgt. Glenn Hamblen, and Mount Juliet Police Officer Kathleen Collett

Tapia and Vazquez are represented by Elliott Ozment of Nashville.

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