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.”
“We think that this case highlights the dangers of the state Legislature’s attempting to delve into the complex area of immigration enforcement and the difficulties that laws like SB81 present to local law enforcement agencies," Mejia said.
When asked whether state Legislature should create immigration policy, Winder said he "didn't want to poke anybody in the eye.
"Sometimes there can be a tendency to say, 'Well, the effects of this, we'll live with' when we pass a particular law. While I understand that, it is not necessarily 'they' who will be living with the result. This, I think, is a classic situation of how unintended consequences affect us," Winder said.
In 2008, while the Utah Legislature was debating SB81, civil rights attorney Brian Barnard noted that implementation of the legislation could be problematic.
"On its face, the proposed legislation doesn't have civil rights violations," the late Barnard said at the time. "Those civil rights violations are going to come more when it's applied and is applied in a discriminatory way."
Winder said it is possible that under the county's original interpretation of SB81 that other people may have been held too long in the jail.
The jail conducted a comprehensive review of its bookings at the time, Winder said. The immediate change in policy likely resolved those issues.
"This particular factual situation was so unique because of the rescinding of the bail. There could have been individuals during that period of time found under similar circumstances. I don't think for the length of time, this one was probably a little unique there," Winder said.3 comments on this story
Winder said spending $75,000 of taxpayer money to resolve the issue was not insignificant. He said he hopes state and local governments can work more closely in the future when state lawmakers craft legislation that has such broad impact.
"Somehow, the system's got to be improved to ensure these downstream effects don't occur," he said.
Winder said SB81 and the county's interpretation of the statute created "a bad situation, with hopefully a good result."