Civil Rights Lawsuit Challenges Tukwila Police Officers’ Response to Tukwila Resident who Called Police Seeking Help
On March 21, 2018, Wilson Rodriguez filed a lawsuit in federal district court against four Tukwila Police officers and the City of Tukwila. The lawsuit alleges that the Tukwila Police officers violated Mr. Rodriguez’s Fourth Amendment rights when they arrested him after he called police seeking protection from an intruder at his family’s home. The Tukwila police released the intruder with a warning, but arrested Mr. Rodriguez based on his immigration status, and then drove him to the nearest Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) station where he was turned over to ICE custody. He remains locked up in immigration custody, separated from his partner, and their three U.S. citizen children, including three-year old twins and a one-year old baby. Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (“NWIRP”) filed the lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Rodriguez.
On February 8, 2018, at around 5:30 in the morning, an intruder climbed over the fence into Mr. Rodriguez’s yard. Mr. Rodriguez was in the house with his partner and their three young children. He immediately called the police who arrived in time to apprehend the intruder. Ultimately, the Tukwila Police released the intruder with a warning that he would face arrest if he returned. However, the Tukwila Police called in Mr. Rodriguez’s information into their police dispatch and were advised that the database reported Mr. Rodriguez as having no legal immigration status, having been ordered removed in 2004. At that point, the Tukwila Police officers detained Mr. Rodriguez while they called up ICE officials to inquire if ICE was interested in Mr. Rodriguez. Mr. Rodriguez was placed in handcuffs while the Tukwila Police officers waited for ICE to return the call. When ICE called back, the Tukwila Police officers volunteered to drive Mr. Rodriguez to the nearest ICE station. At that point ICE officers took over custody of Mr. Rodriguez, and transferred him to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, where he has remained locked up since that date.
Mr. Rodriguez has a prior removal (deportation) order from when he first entered the country in 2004. He was detained but then released after first crossing the border, but did not have an address to provide to the court so he was never issued notice of his court date in Texas. When he missed his immigration court, the Immigration Judge ordered him removed in absentia. He has filed a motion to reopen the old removal order, but remains locked up and separated from his family while he waits on the Immigration Judge to rule on his motion.
The lawsuit alleges that the Tukwila Police unlawfully arrested Mr. Rodriguez for purposes of investigating and then enforcing civil immigration laws even though city police have no authority to enforce civil immigration violations. The lawsuit also alleges the City of Tukwila’s policies unlawfully purport to authorize Tukwila Police to detain or arrest individuals when requested to do so by ICE.
“This type of police involvement in immigration matters sends a message that the police are not there to serve and protect the entire community,” said Matt Adams, Legal Director for NWIRP. “The saddest thing is that a hardworking member of the community is now indefinitely separated from his family, including his three small children, not because of a crime, but because he sought help from the police.”
The lawsuit seeks monetary damages for the harm caused to Mr. Rodriguez but also seeks a court order requiring the Tukwila Police Department to change their policies to ensure they do not detain or arrest individuals in order to investigate or enforce federal civil immigration laws.
Earlier this year the City of Spokane settled a similar suit brought by Northwest Immigrant Rights and the ACLU after a Spokane police officer detained the victim in a car accident while she called the Border Patrol. As part of the settlement agreement, Spokane agreed to modify its policies to clarify, among other things, that police officers “shall not contact, question, delay, detain or arrest an individual be s/he is suspected of violating immigration laws.”
Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) is a nationally-recognized legal services organization founded in 1984. Each year, NWIRP provides direct legal assistance in immigration matters to over 20,000 low-income people from over 135 countries, speaking over 60 different languages and dialects. NWIRP also strives to achieve systemic change to policies and practices affecting immigrants through impact litigation, public policy work, and community education. NWIRP serves the community from four offices in Washington State in Seattle, Granger, Tacoma, and Wenatchee.