West Mifflin woman jailed after immigration-status error files lawsuit


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A West Mifflin woman who said she spent a night in jail based on an erroneous reading of her citizenship status sued the North Regional Joint Police Board, two of its officers, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent and Allegheny County today alleging civil rights violations.

Angelica Davila, 28, was born in Mexico but is the child of Americans and has had U.S. citizenship since 2001, according to the lawsuit filed by attorney Sara Rose of the American Civil Liberties Union.

She filed for an optional Certificate of Citizenship in June 2010, but had not yet received it at the time of her arrest, on Jan. 22, 2011.

Ms. Davila was with a friend leaving a Mexican grocery store in Pine, when a police officer pulled her over about 5:45 p.m., according to the complaint.

Officer Andrew Bienemann, according to the complaint, asked for identification from both Ms. Davila and her friend, Joel Garrete, who does not speak English.

Then he opted to check their immigration status, according to the complaint.

Mr. Garette is a Honduran who was in the U.S. without permission.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Brianna Tetrault issued detainers for both Ms. Davila and Mr. Garrete, and Officer Bienemann arrested them both and took them to the Allegheny County Jail, according to the complaint. Sergeant John Sicilia approved the arrests, according to the complaint.

At 9:50 p.m., an ICE agent called Officer Bienemann and told him Ms. Davila was a legal resident and need not be detained, according to the complaint.

He took no action to have her released and she was kept in jail until 7:30 a.m., according to the complaint.

"I had never been in trouble," Ms. Davila said in an interview.

She said she was very worried as she waited in jail.

"Am I going to be taken back to Mexico?" she asked. "Is my car going to be taken away from me?"

Ms. Rose said the police had no reason to ask about Ms. Davila's immigration status, ICE should not have issued a detainer and the jail has no obligation to hold someone based on such a detainer.

She said everyone involved had a duty to release Ms. Davila as soon as it was clear that she had committed no crime.

"My understanding is that the ICE database is just full of errors," Ms. Rose said.

Ms. Davila, who works in customer service, said she was long haunted by a sense that she must have done something wrong.

According to the lawsuit, her rights to equal protection and to be free from unreasonable seizure and false arrest were violated.

She seeks compensatory and punitive damages, plus attorney fees.

Representatives for ICE and Allegheny County could not be immediately reached. The North Regional officers and their chief could not be reached immediately.

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Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 and on Twitter: @richelord. First Published January 15, 2013 3:00 PM


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