Montana Resident Files Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Deputy Sheriff and Justice Court Judge
For Immediate Release
February 26, 2018
Matt Adams, NWIRP: 206-957-8611, firstname.lastname@example.org
Billings, MT – On Friday, February 23, 2018, Miguel Reynaga, a Billings, Montana resident, filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal district court against a deputy sheriff and a Justice Court judge of Yellowstone County.
The complaint alleges that Deputy Sheriff Derrek Skinner and Judge Pedro Hernandez violated Mr. Reynaga’s constitutional rights by unlawfully arresting him solely for purposes of investigating his civil immigration status, when he appeared to testify as a witness in a civil matter at the Yellowstone County Justice Court. Neither the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office nor the Yellowstone County Justice Court have authority to enforce civil federal immigration law. Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (“NWIRP”) and Shahid Haque represent Mr. Reynaga in the federal case.
On October 2, 2017, Mr. Reynaga attended a hearing at Yellowstone County Justice Court to serve as a witness for his wife, who was seeking a protection order against a third party. Judge Hernandez asked the witnesses to wait in the hall until they were called to testify. However, after the third party alleged that Mr. Reynaga was undocumented, Judge Hernandez called the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office, stating that he had an “illegal” at the courthouse that he wanted arrested. Deputy Sheriff Skinner then came to the courthouse, and after speaking with the Judge, forcibly placed Mr. Reynaga in handcuffs and led him out to the patrol car where he called U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. Deputy Skinner then took Mr. Reynaga to the county jail, where he was held for six hours until an ICE officer arrived. The ICE official interrogated Mr. Reynaga at the county jail, then transferred him to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, where he was placed in removal proceedings before the immigration court.
However, the immigration court later dismissed the proceedings after NWIRP filed a motion to terminate alleging that he had been unlawfully arrested, in violation of his constitutional rights. Mr. Reynaga was released and has returned to live with his family in Billings, Montana. He has initiated the lengthy process to apply for an immigrant visa.
“We talked about whether he should come to court with me, as I was worried about what might happen,” said Jana Reynaga, Mr. Reynaga’s wife. “But he told me that he wanted to be there to support me, and we knew that Courts were supposed to be open to everybody. The next thing we knew our family was torn apart – he was locked up hundreds of miles away and we did not know if they would let him come back.”
Mr. Reynaga was kept locked up over Christmas, the new year’s holiday, and his daughter’s first birthday, until his case was ultimately dismissed.
“It is particularly outrageous because Mr. Reynaga and his wife went to court seeking protection,” said Matt Adams, legal director for NWIRP. “Instead, the court and Sheriff’s office acted way outside of their authority, in a bungled and misguided attempt to enforce federal immigration laws. This is a sad example of the Courthouse slamming its doors, and denying access to justice for all.”
“I want to try to make it so this doesn’t happen to other people. The courts and police should be helping people, not dividing up the community,” said Mr. Reynaga. He is seeking damages and a declaratory relief from the federal court.