MALDEF, ACLU and Otero County Sheriff's Department Resolve Civil Rights Suit

Sheriff’s Department Agrees to Revise Operational Procedures Concerning Immigrants

April 09, 2008

LAS CRUCES, NM— The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico today announced a landmark settlement with the Otero County Sheriff’s Department that addresses what plaintiffs alleged were civil rights violations committed by county deputies during immigration sweeps last September in the southern New Mexico town of Chaparral. Civil rights advocates say the agreement will help restore community trust in local law enforcement and greatly improve the safety of all people living in the County.

The case settled after the Sheriff's Department agreed to revise Operational Procedures that are intended to ensure that the rights of all Latinos living in the County would be protected and that they would not become the targets of immigration-related investigations and detentions without justification. Otero County also agreed to pay the families who brought the case monetary damages and an amount to cover their attorney's fees and the costs of the suit.

ACLU Executive Director Peter Simonson said, “The sheriff’s department worked with us to draft a policy that draws clear boundaries around what are and what are not the responsibilities of local law enforcement officers when they encounter immigrants. It was drafted with one thing in mind: maximizing public safety. This is a smart policy that stands as an example to all other law enforcement agencies around the state.”

On behalf of five Latino families, MALDEF and the ACLU of New Mexico alleged in the lawsuit that sheriff’s deputies raided homes in Chaparral without search warrants, interrogated families without evidence of criminal activity, and targeted households on the basis of race and ethnicity.

The Sheriff's Department denied any wrongdoing, but agreed to revise policies in order to provide more effective law enforcement to its constituents and to focus its attention on persons suspected of committing crimes.

David Urias, MALDEF Staff Attorney and counsel in the case, said, “The agreement by the Sheriffs Department to revise their procedures means that Latinos in Otero County will be protected by local police from crimes, not randomly targeted for immigration enforcement.”

The Otero County Sheriff’s Department operational procedure regarding the legal complaint and other relevant documents can be found online.

For all media inquiries, please contact Laura Rodriguez.

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund