Court Denies Effort to Dismiss or Break Up Lawsuit, Moves Case Forward Swiftly
FREDERICK, MD – In a sweeping victory for immigrant families and against racial profiling, U.S. District Court Judge Richard D. Bennett soundly rejected Frederick Sheriff Charles Jenkins’ multi-pronged attack on a lawsuit seeking to hold Frederick County and its Sheriff’s Office accountable for illegal behavior against Latinx people. In a forceful ruling from the bench, Judge Bennett held yesterday that the plaintiffs in the case, Medrano v. Jenkins can sue Sheriff Jenkins, and Deputies Randy Barrera and Brian Mothershead, in both their individual and official capacities, as well as bringing separate claims against the Frederick County and Sheriff’s Office entities. The judge further rejected the Sheriff’s attempt to split the case up into pieces – a defense tactic known as “bifurcation” – allowing the plaintiffs to pursue all their claims and go to trial together, setting up a courtroom showdown before a federal jury next June.
The lawsuit, brought in 2019 by Sara Medrano, a Latina Frederick resident who was unlawfully racially profiled and illegally detained, and by the Resources for Immigrant Support and Empowerment (RISE) Coalition of Western Maryland, unravels the hidden patterns of racial discrimination and unconstitutional policing Latinx residents face from Sheriff Jenkins and his department. Judge Bennett’s ruling allows discovery in the case to move forward now, which promises to help Ms. Medrano and RISE shine greater light on the illegal practices of the Sheriffs’ Office.
Describing what she wanted out of the lawsuit, Sara Medrano, a Latina Frederick County resident, said: “Stop harassing people just because they’re Hispanic. We are equals. Just because we are immigrants doesn’t mean we are worth less than Americans.”
Sara Medrano was stopped by the two Frederick County sheriff’s deputies on July 7, 2018 for a “broken” tail light that turned out to be working just fine. One of the officers asked her where she was from. When she said she lived in Frederick for more than 13 years, he asked about her immigration status. They held her for about an hour, unsuccessfully trying to get ICE to come pick her up because they had no basis to arrest her. Once Ms. Medrano arrived home, she discovered her tail light was working fine and realized she had been stopped because she looked “Latina.”
Her story is not the only one. Other members of the RISE Coalition have been harassed, unlawfully targeted, and questioned for suspected immigration violations, including the targeting of U.S. citizens who are Latinx. One specific incident involved a RISE member overhearing two officers discussing how they pretextually arrested someone for an open container violation because they suspected he was undocumented. A related case was brought and won by Roxana Orellana Santos, who was unjustly arrested during her work break because she was eating her sandwich “suspiciously.” Combined, these lawsuits and racial profiling incidents show that the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office has engaged in a systemic pattern and practice of profiling Latinx people for the way they look and/or the languages they may speak.
Judge Bennett made clear in strong comments from the bench that he saw these incidents being influenced by Sheriff Jenkins’ history of racist comments, and a repetition of what resulted in 2008 with Ms. Orellana Santos, where it took over a decade to resolve the case. Judge Bennett promised Ms. Medrano’s case would not drag out that long. Since then, both U.S. Supreme Court and 4th Circuit Court of Appeals precedent make clear that what happened to Ms. Medrano and other members of the RISE Coalition was unconstitutional.
Sheriff Jenkins has been documented saying unaccompanied refugee children “aren’t all the innocent children they’re portrayed to be” and calling recipients of the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program “hardcore gangbangers.” The Sheriff’s Office’s 287(g) agreement with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), taken against the background of our compelling case of biased enforcement by Sheriff Jenkins, was enough to move Judge Bennett to allow the litigation to move forward and deny the defendant’s motion to dismiss.
Nick Taichi Steiner, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Maryland, said: “This is a clear victory for immigrant families. But while we are excited about the news and motivated to continue forward, we must keep in mind the importance of holding the Sheriff and his office accountable for the fear and anxiety they have spread among Latinx communities and the destruction of countless lives from illegal racial profiling and discrimination. We want to send a clear message to Sheriff Jenkins: we will see you in court.
Sara Medrano and the RISE Coalition are represented by Nick Taichi Steiner and Deborah Jeon of the ACLU of Maryland, and John Hayes and Brian Whittaker of Nixon Peabody LLP.
Learn more at about Medrano v. Jenkins here.