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LA County Supes Approve $14 Million Settlement Over Immigration Holds

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors finalized a $14 million settlement in a federal class-action lawsuit challenging the LA County Sheriff’s Department’s past practice of denying court-approved bail and holding people in jail, sometimes for months, for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The lawsuit, filed in 2012, covers a period from October 2010 to June 2014, during which time the sheriff’s department held 18,500 people, who would have otherwise been released or allowed to post bail, on behalf of ICE. Some, including the lead plaintiff, Duncan Roy, were held long beyond their release dates. Some were held even though their bail amount was so low they would have otherwise been able to go free. A third category of class members were denied bail altogether, solely based on an ICE detainer request.

The ACLU and its co-counsels accused the LASD of violating state law, and the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment’s clauses regarding unreasonable searches and seizures and incarceration without due process.

Most of these immigration detainers occurred under the leadership of then-Sheriff Lee Baca, who retired in January 2014.

(On May 12, 2017, the former sheriff  was sentenced to three years in federal prison for his role in an elaborate scheme to obstruct an FBI investigation into corruption in the jail system Baca oversaw.)

Although, six months after Baca’s exit, the department stopped the practice of holding people past their scheduled release dates, the LASD still worked closely with ICE, sharing information and allowing ICE agents to pick people up from jail.**

This past August, however, current LASD Sheriff Alex Villanueva turned his April moratorium on ICE transfers from LA jails into official department policy. Because a future sheriff could rescind that policy, the LA County Supervisors followed Villanueva’s move with a vote to make the ban permanent. Thus, moving forward, the LASD cannot use “any County resources, property, personnel, time, labor or funds” to “honor requests by immigration authorities … to hold, detain, house, transfer or otherwise facilitate the arrest of any person in the Sheriff’s Department custody,” without a judicial warrant or judicial finding of probable cause. Nor will local law enforcement be allowed to communicate with immigration authorities regarding the dates and times that individuals would be released, or their immigration statuses without a warrant or probable cause.

At the time that the complaint was filed in 2012, approximately 43 percent of those whom the LASD held for ICE were “low custody,” which generally meant that they were charged with low-level offenses, and likely had low bail amounts that they could have posted had the sheriff’s department not denied them bail to hold them for immigration agents.

The lead plaintiff, Duncan Roy, then 52 years old, was a British filmmaker who owned a home in Malibu. He was lawfully in the United States at the time of his arrest, and suffering from prostate and colon cancer.

The LASD arrested Roy for alleged extortion after he threatened to “blog about an allegedly fraudulent real estate deal,” according to the complaint.

The sheriff’s department refused to release Roy on bail set at $35,000, and held him in the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station and then in the “gay dorm” of Men’s Central Jail for 89 days on behalf of ICE. Roy, according to the complaint, was denied medical care for his cancer which required “routine monitoring.”

At the end of the 89 days, the feds dropped the immigration hold “on humanitarian grounds,” and allowed Roy to post bail.

Annika Alliksoo, an Estonian citizen married to a U.S. citizen, was held for 18 days in the Palmdale Station and then in the Lynwood Jail. “Defendants first refused to allow her to post bail under the judicially-determined County bail schedule and then under court-ordered bail,” the complaint says. “Then, after a superior court judge ordered her released on her own recognizance, Defendants continued to detain her for an additional three days solely on the immigration hold.”

Each of the more than 18,500 class members covered by Roy v County of Los Angeles is eligible to receive between $250 and $25,000, based on circumstances that include the length of jail stay beyond the release date. Any remaining money from the settlement will go to programs that providing legal services to immigrants facing deportation because of an arrest or conviction.

The money will come from the sheriff’s department’s budget. Sheriff Villanueva told the board of supervisors on Tuesday that it wasn’t fair that his administration would be punished financially for the acts of his two predecessors, noting that he “kicked ICE out of the jails” and “banned all transfers.”

Co-counsels on the settlement are the civil rights law firm Kaye, McLane, Bednarski & Litt, the ACLU of Southern California, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), and the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC).

“For years, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the largest law enforcement agency in the United States, callously denied immigrants constitutional protections that universally apply to all other jail detainees — unjustifiably holding them without cause as prisoners,” said Lindsay Battles, partner at Kaye, McLane, Bednarski & Litt. “This settlement holds the sheriff’s department accountable for thousands of unlawful incarcerations and provides a measure of compensation to every person injured by their unconstitutional policies.”

The settlement should also serve as a message to the Trump Administration, according to Mark Fleming, associate director of litigation for the NIJC.

“For the past four years, ICE and the Trump administration have coerced, threatened, and defamed so-called sanctuary cities for declining to honor ICE’s illegal immigration detainers,” said Fleming. “This settlement is a stark reminder to all law enforcement officials that cooperation with ICE’s illegal tactics risks profound financial liability to the communities they are sworn to serve.”

** 7:38 p.m., correction and update.  We originally wrote that former sheriff Jim McDonnell stopped the practice of holding people in the jails for ICE past their proper release dates, in July 2014. Yet, since McDonnell wasn’t sworn in as sheriff until December 1, 2014, accomplishing the July 2014 reform would have been somewhat difficult.

Photo: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement


  • This case is just so odd… a request by definition is “an act of asking politely or formally for something” – why did the sheriff’s department hold the man for 89 days? Sounds like they deserved to be sued, but did any of that decision really come from ICE? When did ICE ask for a hold longer than 48 hours (2 days for people who struggle with time)? It just seems like “reporters” continue to try to discredit ICE for mistakes other agencies are making… silly silly. As a final note… how are these detainer “requests” deemed “unconstitutional”? If you don’t want to honor it, just don’t… seems pretty straight-forward.

  • So when someone finally holds public health responsible for their failure to protect nursing home patients from Covid19, will the money come from their operational budget! Oh that’s right the BOS via the CEOs office oversees Public Health. No they will bail them out and give the CEO a nice end of career gift….

  • Ms. Taylor Walker,

    You might want to research/fact check this part of your story: “His successor, former Sheriff Jim McDonnell, halted the practice of holding people beyond their scheduled releases in July 2014, six months after taking office.”

  • And HIS successor, AV, is still shooting himself in the foot. Last night’s meeting of LASD’s Oversight Commission (10-15-2020; 3:40 PM) called for AV’s immediate resignation. Full particulars can be Googled:

    LASD Oversight Commission calls for Sheriff’s resignation.

  • I guess the COC, BOS, WLA and LAT can keep putting these “politcal hit piece articles” out and hope they either wear Sheriff Villanueva down and hound him to quit or they are effective in sewing long lasting seeds of dislike in the voters, all in the hopes they will remember it two years from now. The last I remember, Sheriff Villanueva was elected by the voters the same way all the BOS members were. Since the BOS answers to no one, but has it in their mind they control the elected Sheriff, I’ll stick with supporting the Sheriff who was legally voted into office.

    Elections have consequences and the voters will decide in two years who they want to be the Sheriff of LA County.

  • Right!!!

    Remember Measure “R”?

    It passed by something like 74% last election (subpoena power to the Oversight Commission).

    Not a good harbinger for AV’s electoral chances.

  • Skeptic, do you remember the percentage Villanueva won the elections buy? Just wondering. I think both you and I know too well as pointed out by Rak the voters have buyers remorse. If Sheriff’s elections were held this year Villanueva would lose…. and by a huge margin.

  • The BOS was in charge of DCFS when Gabriel Fernandez died. They formed a Citizen Commission to investigate but many recommendation had already been made previously. They went unimplemented by DCFS… the Commission was just cover for the BOS until the bad publicity died down.

    What about the couple thousand deaths in nursing homes during the Covid19 crisis? The BOS realized they had a growing problem much to late. They focuses County Resources on the homeless but clear evidence early on indicated the real threat was to our seniors. They failed. Seniors died. They appointed their political pit bull Max Huntsmann, to whitewash it. They dithered and people died. Their response was a shell game… look and the Sheriff and ignore us…

    The BOS like the Sheriff answer to the voters. They play this distraction game to hid their failure and the media does not care. The Sheriff has well deserved criticism but do you believe the BOS really cares about reform… I don’t… if they did they certainly have enough under their own preview to reform.

  • @JC, 5.7% or 141,576 votes.

    2,479,964 votes were cast.

    1,310,780 for LT Villanueva
    1,169,184 for McDonnell

    4.3 million registered voters in LA County.

  • I highly doubt the majority of law abiding individuals and people trying to just live work and survive right now have any “overwhelming” desire or feeling that the sheriff must go. This narrative drummed up by the BOS, BLM and COC and delivered by WLA and the local media is just fodder for those already addicted to. It’s like CNN….Fake News and much to do about nothing.

    As long as people feel safe and secure in their homes, criminals are being arrested and decent people feel they can go out at night safely, the average law abiding, non “justice involved” (LOL) individual or family member will vote for the incumbent. If Sheriff Villanueva wants to run again, I’m pretty sure he will win. Only the BOS cares and at least one of the little narcissists on the board will be termed out by the time the next election for Sheriff comes around…which is a good start.

  • T&B, Thanks.
    @ Seeking, The entire term of Villanueva as Sheriff is the story of how he continues to blame the BOS for his fuckup’s. If you are willing to risk humiliation, continue to drink the KoolAid.

  • Yes, quite a dubious measure. How can “members of the public” (read that to be ex-cons and ne’er-do-wells from the community) have subpoena power? Absurd and likely not legal. Doubtful many of them could pass a basic background check to legally review CORI material.

  • Why all the commissions and elevating the CAO to CEO? Insulation from accountability for the BOS.

  • So what? He bucks the BOS attempt to run his department that he was elected to run. They are just pining away for another McBuckles that they can fully control. They have budget oversight – that’s it. It’s all political theater.

  • The main idea was to have subpoena power. Again, it’s dubious and quite likely not legal. A bunch of goofballs don’t just get subpoena power because it’s voted on. That’s what distinguishes our REPUBLIC from a DEMOCRACY. They are not the same.

  • @ DoR,

    “They have budget oversight – that’s it” Seriously?? Are you that dense? You do realize that without any money, Allie and BiBi are powerless and the LASD continues to crumble under the Idiot’s leadership, or lack thereof.

    But heck, I guess the Kool Aid taste good enough for you to keep drinking up.


  • It appears it’s you who is dense. The BOS can’t just shut off the funding because they’re having a temper tantrum. I think AV has made a litany of errors, which I have posted about here before. But you are just an immature heckler, yelling from the stands while posting hashtags on a blog. You are embarrassing yourself every time you post that crap.

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