ACLU files civil suit against Gaylord Police, others
GAYLORD – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Minnesota announced Tuesday it filed a 12-count lawsuit in Federal District Court against Gaylord Police, the Sibley County Sheriff’s Office, and Arlington Police for constitutional rights violations of a Gaylord woman.
The civil suit claims Jesus Mendoza Sierra’s fourth, fifth and 14th amendment rights were violated when officers and deputies arrested, detained and interrogated her on March 9, 2012, after the driver of the car she was in, was arrested.
According to an ACLU news release, law enforcement officials assumed that because Mendoza Sierra was Hispanic and that she was illegally in the United States. Despite being told she had valid Minnesota identification and no warrants, officers brought her to the police department, detained and interrogated her, then went to her residence and looked at her immigration documents, before police drove her to work, according to the news release.
The complaint claims unjustified search and seizure and that the defendants lacked probable cause, targeting Mendoza Sierra due to her color, ethnicity and national origin.
Mendoza Sierra is a lawful, permanent U.S. resident who immigrated to Minnesota in May 2009. She lives in Gaylord and works at the Michael Foods, Inc. egg processing plant, according to court documents.
She was a passenger in a car driven by her daughter, Luz Maria Cisneros Mendoza, who was suspected by police of using a false name, Ruth Rendon, to open a bank account at First National Bank, Gaylord, according to the complaint.
An individual named Ruth Rendon, living in Texas, contacted Gaylord Police after she learned a bank account had been opened with that name. Gaylord Police notified the bank and instructed employees to call police if “Ruth Rendon” came to the bank, according to court documents.
At about 1:30 p.m. on March 9, 2012, Luz Maria drove Mendoza Sierra to the bank where Mendoza Sierra tried to deposit her paycheck at the drive through teller. Recognizing Ruth Rendon, the teller called Gaylord Police via a 911 call. Gaylord Police and Sibley County Sheriff’s Office deputies went to the bank, according to the complaint.
After a Gaylord Police officer asked Luz Maria to follow him in her car to the station, a Sibley County Deputy motioned for Mendoza Sierra to follow him to his car. She objected, saying she had to go to work, in English and Spanish, according to the complaint.
During this time, a bank worker came out and returned the pay check the ID card issued to Mendoza Sierra. A deputy took the card, and dispatch confirmed that it was valid and there were no warrants for Mendoza Sierra.
Mendoza Sierra was taken to the police station, was told to sit down and was not explained her rights, When her identity was questioned, she replied and was accused of lying several times, by a Gaylord Police officer who pounded his fist on a table, according to the complaint.
By not accessing the Minnesota Identification Database to verify Mendoza Sierra’s identity, law enforcement officers listed as defendants failed to conduct a proper investigation and were more concerned with her national origin and immigration status than any law violation, the complaint alleges.
Officers escorted Mendoza Sierra to her home and followed her inside without her permission, consent or a warrant. They confirmed her identification while in her home and then and drove her to work at Michael Foods, according to the complaint.
Due to the officer’s actions, Mendoza Sierra seeks damages in excess of $75,000 for each of the 12-counts, plus costs and attorneys’ fees and demands a jury trial and leave to amend the complaint to include a claim of punitive damages, according to court documents.
“In over 20 years of handling 1,983 civil rights cases, this is the most blatant disregard of an individual based on ethnicity and national origin by police that I have seen,” said cooperating attorney Albert Goins, of Goins Law Offices, Ltd., Minneapolis.
Other attorneys working on the case are Ian Bratlie, staff attorney for the Greater Minnesota Racial Justice Project of the ACLU-MN, Mankato and ACLU-MN Legal Director Teresa Nelson.
Nelson said the defendants have 20 days to file an answer to the complaint.
“Most people were served last Friday (Feb. 15). Nothing is scheduled in court yet,” Nelson added.
Gaylord County Attorney David Schauer said his office tendered the lawsuit to the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust (MCIT) but would not comment further.
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at email@example.com).