Bristol County Sheriff Accused In Lawsuit Of Illegally Imprisoning Immigrant

Jun 19, 2018

A new civil rights lawsuit filed Tuesday in Boston's federal court says Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson detained an immigrant based solely on the man's immigration status — which is illegal under current law.

The complaint also charges that Hodgson has encouraged and condoned his employees detaining immigrants without the clear legal authority to do so.

The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice and Latham and Watkins LLP filed the suit on behalf of 38-year-old Moises Rivas, who is originally from El Salvador but who, according to his attorneys, has been living in New Bedford for many years.

Rivas was serving time at the Bristol County Jail on Ash Street in New Bedford for a "minor non-violent charge," according to a press release, when his family attempted to pay his $1,000 bail. They were told that Rivas could not be released on bail because of his immigration status and that the Bristol County Sheriff's Office would continue holding him at the request of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The suit says Rivas' imprisonment, which lasted from Aug. 18 to Sept. 5, 2017, was based solely on his immigration status and therefore was in direct violation of the July 2017 Supreme Judicial Court ruling in Commonwealth v. Lunn. The SJC ruled that state officials do not have the power to detain people on civil immigration matters alone.

But Hodgson and the Bristol County Sherriff's Office have argued that their partnership in the federal 287(g) program precludes them from the Lunn decision, "because we are certified ICE representatives — our officers are, who have gone through the four-week training," Hodgson said.

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

The lawsuit also says Hodgson has made public comments that "indicat[e] animus towards immigrant communities" and cites his January 2017 announcement offering Bristol County inmates to help build President Trump's proposed border wall. In addition to seeking damages for Rivas, the suit asks the federal court for a decision "prohibiting the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office and its employees from unlawfully detaining individuals solely on the basis of an ICE Detainer."

When asked for comment, a spokesman for the sheriff's office said he would send a statement once they read through the complaint.