Federal Court Complaint Challenges Unlawful Detention of Immigrants in MA

Lawless Sheriff Will Answer To the Court

Federal Court Complaint Alleges Bristol County Sheriff Unlawfully Detains Immigrants

June 19, 2018

Boston, MA – Today, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice and Latham and Watkins LLP filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court in Boston to hold Bristol County’s lawless sheriff Thomas Hodgson, and the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office accountable for their illegal detention of immigrants. The Complaint charges that Sheriff Hodgson has encouraged and condoned his employees to detain immigrants when there is no legal basis to do so.

Moises Rivas, the plaintiff in the case filed today, was imprisoned without legal basis in Bristol County from August 18, 2017 to September 5, 2017. Mr. Rivas was initially held on a minor-nonviolent charge one year earlier. Eventually his family came up with the money to pay his bail and therefore sought Mr. Rivas’ release. Despite the ability to pay bail, the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office continued to hold Mr. Rivas citing immigration documents. The Bristol County Sheriff’s Office illegally detained Mr. Rivas solely because of his immigration status, and once he was detained he suffered not only the harsh conditions of confinement but also additional mockery on account of his race and immigration status. This detention was squarely in violation of established Massachusetts law. In July 2017 the Supreme Judicial Court ruled in Commonwealth v. Lunn that state officials do not have the power to detain people on civil immigration matters alone.

“Mr. Rivas was stripped of his liberty and kept in jail because he is an immigrant,” said Oren Nimni, Civil Rights Fellow at the Lawyers’ Committee.  “That offends fundamental constitutional protections under both federal and state law.”

“Sheriff Hodgson cannot flout the law on the basis of his personal beliefs, nor can he encourage his employees to do so. The Supreme Judicial Court has made very clear that State officials cannot civilly detain people solely on account of immigration status,” stated Kenneth Parsigian a partner at Latham and Watkins, which is representing Mr. Rivas pro bono.  The Complaint cites numerous racist and anti-immigrant statements by Sheriff Hodgson, including volunteering to send Bristol County inmates to the border to build President Trump’s border wall, and charges that these statements have encouraged and condoned Sheriff’s Office employees to illegally detain immigrants.

Attorney Nimni noted that Sheriff Hodgson has a lengthy history of failing to follow basic legal standards. Last year the Lawyers’ Committee successfully brought suit to compel Hodgson to release public records that he was withholding regarding the Sheriff’s Office’s attempts to enforce federal immigration law.  His Office is also currently the subject of ongoing lawsuits alleging unconstitutional solitary confinement of mentally ill prisoners and that Hodgson received illegal kickbacks from telephone companies operating in his facilities.

The federal complaint filed today seeks damages for Mr. Rivas, as well as a court declaration that his detention was improper and in violation of federal and state law.

The complaint is available here:

Bristol County Complaint FINAL