Milwaukee Sheriff Nailed for Stonewalling Records

     MILWAUKEE (CN) — Milwaukee’s outspoken conservative sheriff must produce unaltered copies of immigration detention records, an appeals court ruled Tuesday.
     I-247s are immigration detainer forms that come from U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.
     The forms can give a local law-enforcement agency like the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department to detain arrestees for an additional 48 hours.
     Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. drew a lawsuit from the immigrant-rights group Voces de la Frontera over his response to the group’s request for Milwaukee County’s I-247s.
     Saying the court gave Clarke 48 hours to produce the records, Voces de la Frontera hopes an audit of them will show whether Milwaukee’s detention of people suspected of immigration-law violations has conflicted with federal law.
     “This is a victory for open government and democracy and the immigrant rights movement,” Voces executive director Christine Neumann-Ortiz said in a statement. “Sheriff Clarke can no longer carry out deportations in secret. We will now obtain information regularly to hold Clarke accountable for his deportations and ensure he is respecting new federal enforcement priorities.”
     The ruling notes that Clarke released redacted versions of all 12 of the forms received between November 2014 and February 2015, after Voces filed suit in Milwaukee County Circuit Court that April.
     The sheriff blacked out “(1) subject ID, (2) event number, (3) file number, (4) nationality, and (5) a series of boxes pertaining to immigration status,” the opinion states.
     Later, he released versions that displayed the detainees’ nationality.
     Though Judge David Borowski granted Voces a writ of mandamus to release the rest of the redacted information, the court stayed that order pending the appeal.
     Capt. Catherine Trimboli, the sheriff’s records custodian, had testified in the lower-court proceedings that she deferred to ICE’s request to keep the documents secret when denying a request to view them.
     But Borowski found this reason inadequate to trump Wisconsin’s open-records law, saying Voces’ desire to hold a government actor accountable was the more compelling argument on the issue of disclosure.
     On appeal, Clarke argued that the records pertained to federal detainees and were thus exempt from disclosure under an exception to state open-records law.
     Writing for a three-judge panel Tuesday, however, Justice Kitty Brennan said detaining a state prisoner for potential federal jurisdiction does not convert them into federal detainees.
     “The I-247 form itself makes clear, as does the case law, that federal custody only begins when the state custody ends,” wrote Brennan, joined by Judges William Brash and Joan Kessler. “Here it is undisputed that the state custody had not ended.”
     Brennan also noted “that if Sheriff Clarke was correct in his interpretation of the statutes that the filing of an I-247 makes the hold federal, then he was in error to provide any part of the form at all —— redacted or otherwise —— including the names of the prisoners.”
     Brennan agreed with Borowski that deferring to another agency is inadequate here.
     “That is the extent to which the sheriff conducts any balancing test, which is none at all,” Brennan wrote. “Instead, Captain Trimboli’s testimony indicates that the interests of law enforcement per se outweigh the statutory public policy of openness, which runs counter to the purpose and spirit of Wisconsin’s open records law.”
     Neumann-Ortiz said “Clarke should be ashamed for wasting taxpayer dollars on lawyers to try to keep indefensible deportations secret.”
     A frequent commentator on Fox News, Clarke criticizes liberals generally and protesters of police brutality specifically .
     A representative for Clarke’s office said the sheriff’s department will appeal to the state Supreme Court.

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