S.L. County settles 2011 lawsuit over man's unlawful detainment for immigration status check

Published: Monday, Aug. 25 2014 9:50 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County has settled a lawsuit filed on behalf of a man held in the Salt Lake County Jail and by federal authorities for 46 days after he posted court-ordered bail.

The plaintiff, Enrique Uroza, was detained by the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office to check his immigration status, which the county officials believed was required under SB81, passed by the Utah Legislature in 2008.

Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder said in a news briefing Monday afternoon that he was pleased to work with the ACLU of Utah and private attorneys who represented Uroza in a "mutually agreeable settlement" of claims against the county. Claims against the federal government and federal agents are ongoing.

Under the settlement, Uroza will receive $75,000 for damages, attorneys’ fees and costs.

Salt Lake County has also agreed to permanently end its “SB81 procedure” under which it held detainees whom jail officials suspected of being undocumented immigrants for at least 48 hours.

"The county conceded that the jail’s SB81 procedure was unconstitutionally implemented as it applied to Mr. Uroza, which was an unintended consequence of the jail’s attempt to comply with the state Legislature’s SB81 bill enacted in 2008. The county suspended the policy in 2011," the ACLU of Utah said in a news release issued Monday.

The county further agreed to an ongoing dialogue with Uroza’s counsel about its current policies and procedures relating to jail detainees and immigration issues, according to the ACLU of Utah.

While many community members and law enforcement representatives lobbied against the passage of SB81, the bill passed both houses of the Utah Legislature by a wide margin.

SB81 stated that county sheriffs "shall make a reasonable effort to determine the citizenship status of a person charged with a felony or driving under the influence … when the person is confined to the county jail for a period of time."

After passage of the law, the sheriff's office consulted with the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office for guidance how to implement the policy.

"Part of the issue is our reading of the law. Our perception was SB81 was mandatory. Subsequent review of that statute suggests it's permissive. The language is essentially telling us 'we should,' not that 'we must,'" Winder said.

The current policy at the jail is all inmates are treated the same at booking, irrespective of immigration status, Winder said. However, if inmates tell jail officers they were born outside the United States, their files are placed in a bin apart from those of other inmates. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has the responsibility to review those records, Winder said.

Uroza, who at the time was a sophomore at Weber State University with no criminal history other than a minor traffic ticket, appeared in state court in June 2011 to face forgery and theft charges. His bail was set at $5,000, and a judge remanded him to the county jail for processing.

Uroza was booked into custody at 2:34 p.m. on June 13, and his bail bond was posted approximately 10 minutes later, according to the complaint. Despite the bail order, Winder and his officers refused to release Uroza, the lawsuit stated.

Uroza, in a statement released when the lawsuit was filed, said he took action "not just to vindicate my rights, but to protect the rights of everyone who has been or would otherwise be subjected to indefinite detention by the police."

John Mejia, legal director for the ACLU of Utah, expressed gratitude to the county and Winder "for their willingness to carefully look at their jail policies and to permanently end the SB81 procedure.”

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