ACLU and Teller Sheriff Battle In Court Over ICE Detention Holds

Photo by Trevor Phipps

Sheriff wins preliminary battle

Photo by Trevor Phipps

~ by Rick Langenberg ~

The highly controversial case involving the holding of a suspected, undocumented immigrant in the Teller County jail landed in the laps of a Fourth Judicial District judge last week.

In a verdict on Monday, the Teller County Sheriff’s Department was granted the right to hold certain inmates in their jail, at the request of the federal government, until the conclusion of an overall lawsuit that questions this practice. A decision was made by Judge Lil Billings-Vela to deny a preliminary injunction filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Colorado.

There is much riding on the case for Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell, who is one of the last holdouts among sheriffs in Colorado in supporting the requests of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in holding immigrant inmates whom authorities believe should be removed from the country

“I have the authority in Colorado as a sheriff to protect my community and uphold the peace to the best of my abilities, and will not be dissuaded from that.  I will not allow a third party, such as the ACLU, to intervene and the community I care about,” said Mikesell in an earlier press conference late last month, shortly after the initial filing of a lawsuit by the ACLU.

This same stand was reinforced by Mikesell and by county attorney Paul Hurcomb last week. They appeared in court in Colorado Springs to defend a preliminary injunction request filed by the ACLU. The ACLU has now expanded its legal arsenal and is demanding that the sheriff’s office completely stop the practice of detaining suspected illegal immigrants, who would be eligible for parole.

At issue immediately was the fate of Leonardo Canseco, who was jailed in July by Teller authorities on a $800 bond for what ACLU officials describe as a misunderstanding over $8.25 in credits at a reserved slot machine in Cripple Creek. Canseco was charged with alleged theft and another misdemeanor offense.

ACLU attorneys argued that sheriff authorities were trying to depict Canseco as a dangerous criminal, when the only mistake he made was playing a machine that was reserved for another gambler.  Even though Canseco repaid the money in question, he was arrested by a Division of Gaming officer. He also was cited for presenting a forged identification card.

Canseco was denied the opportunity to post a bond, at the request of ICE, to allow for a future transfer to a federal facility. That’s when ACLU officials stepped in and cried foul play and filed a lawsuit against the Teller sheriff and filed a preliminary injunction to have Canseco released.   

Sheriff authorities contended they are following a policy of supporting their federal partners to keep the community safe. The Teller jail is a designated holding facility for ICE inmates.

During a two hour hearing last week, both the ACLU and sheriff’s office staked out their claims in more detail that were briefly unveiled in series of counter press conferences, held in Woodland Park in late July. That exchanges was quite bizarre, according to members of the media. 

Mark Silverstein of the ACLU [right] photo by CR Chambers
The ACLU representatives argued that the sheriff is abusing his powers dictated by the state statues, providing no provision for denying bail to inmates at the request of federal authorities. “In Colorado, when someone posts bond, the sheriff is required to release,” said Mark Silverstein of the ACLU, according to a report in The (Colorado Springs) Gazette.

At the same time, the ACLU representatives acknowledged that authorities believe Canseco is here illegally, but they contend that the immigration courts haven’t determined his case yet.

The sheriff, through arguments made by Hurcomb, maintained that Teller law officers are trying to keep the community safe. The sheriff noted that the county has been besieged by an increase in crime due to illegal marijuana grow operations, a number of which are run by illegal immigrants and undocumented workers. That said, he maintained that no evidence has suggested that Canseco is involved with marijuana cultivation.

 Big legal impacts in the region

This is a red hot issue in Teller County. The sheriff’s stand is strongly supported by comments on social media outlets pertaining to a crackdown on illegal immigrants and in endorsing ICE. Miksell has made it clear that Teller County won’t be a sanctuary county for illegal immigrants and possibly dangerous criminals, comments that have drawn tremendous support by many local residents. “Let me be clear, in cooperation with our county government, and standing shoulder to shoulder with my commissioners, we want to make it clear that we shall protect our community,” said Mikesell in earlier statements regarding the ACLU lawsuit. 

Mikesell reasserted his position in a press conference on Monday. “Time and time again, when sheriffs or other agencies have released someone without contacting ICE, we see crimes that have occurred. We see people that have died from those acts,” the sheriff said. “We won the right to continue to protect our citizens.”


He made the same comments in an earlier interview last week with TMJ (see related video), prior to Monday’s decision.


But not everyone is on the same page, even in conservative Teller County, as this issue is quite political.

TMJ News received a call last week by one staunch objector, who maintained that he won’t be doing any shopping in Teller County due to the alleged harassment policies of the sheriff’s department. He complained about their allegiance to such groups as the National Rifle Association and mentioned their endorsement of ICE in detaining suspected illegal immigrants as nothing less than a violation of the constitution.

The one big obstacle the sheriff has faced was a precedent already established by the court. In a similar lawsuit filed by ACLU against the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, Fourth Judicial District Judge Eric Bentley ruled in favor of the ACLU and suspended the practice of holding suspected illegal immigrants held at ICE’s request at the El Paso County Jail

However, that lawsuit, dealing with the jailing of two suspected illegal immigrants, hasn’t been quite resolved. 

ACLU representatives were disappointed with the denial of their motion for a preliminary injunction, but believe they will prevail in determining the overall lawsuit, which could be decided by a higher court.

Until that final verdict is determined, Mikesell can continue to jail suspected undocumented illegal immigrants, at the request of federal authorities.

*Stay tuned for more updates regarding this story, via Mountain Jackpot Facebook and our website,