Teller County Sheriff Office Prevails In Fight Against ACLU

Photo by CR Chambers

Agency set to train deputies as immigration officers

~ by Rick Langenberg ~ 

In a big triumph for the Teller County Sheriff’s Office, a district judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the agency regarding its policies in detaining possible illegal immigrants, at the request of the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

And in a related verdict, the stage is now set for several Teller deputies to serve as ICE mandated federal immigration officers at the jail in Divide. This is a byproduct of the 287g federal program, originally signed by President Donald Trump and aimed at allowing local law enforcement entities to partake in national efforts to increase illegal immigration enforcement.  

The legal decision, which occurred in early February, was announced at last week’s regular commissioners meeting by county attorney Paul Hurcomb.

“This is good news,” said Hurcomb, who noted that the Teller sheriff’s office prevailed on a variety of legal and political fronts.

The decision to throw out the lawsuit was signed by Judge Lin Billings Vela. In some ways, it represented a continuation of an earlier decision made last August in which the judge denied a preliminary injunction, filed by the ACLU, which would have barred the sheriff’s office from abiding by ICE prisoner detainer requests.

The injunction basically dealt with the 2018 case of Leonardo Canseco Salinas, who was held at the jail last summer on an $800 bond over two misdemeanors, involving the alleged theft of $8 from a gambler in Cripple Creek. Salinas was detained in the Teller jail, at the request of ICE.

However, Salinas was released from jail in September. As a result, the lawsuit became almost a moot point, according to legal officials.

That played a role in the dismissal of the lawsuit, according to Hurcomb.

Teller To Become Part Of National Illegal Immigration Crackdown

But last week, the county attorney stated that the finalization of the 287g paper work also led to the case dismissal. He explained that the county finalized an agreement in late 2018 and early 2019, allowing Teller to become an agency that participates in the program. In February of 2018, Sheriff Jason Mikesell sent a letter to the ICE deputy director, expressing an interest in participating in the 287g immigration enforcement effort, citing fears of growing drug cartels in Teller County. “As sheriff, I am committed to using every law enforcement tool available to keep our county safe and acceptance into the 287g program will help me in this effort.”

ICE accepted the county’s request that would permit the training of several deputies as federal immigration officers, under the direction of ICE

However, the partial federal government shutdown delayed the execution of this order.

But Hurcomb said last week that Teller’s involvement in the 287g program has now received the green light and training for three deputies is preliminary set for March and April. “They will act as federal immigration officers,” said Hurcomb.

That means the officers will do much coordination with ICE in interrogating suspected undocumented immigrants at the jail, issuing arrest warrants and doing the appropriate paper work.

ACLU Representatives [photo by CR Chambers]

With the details of this program now in place, the ACLU’s legal battle against Teller County lost much of its ammunition, according to Hurcomb.

Judge Lin Billings Vela decided to completely dismiss the case and ordered the two parties to pay their own respective attorney fees. No appeals can be filed in this matter, according to Hurcomb. However, he said a related suit, dealing with a legal prison detainer showdown between ACLU and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, is still active and headed to the Colorado Court of Appeals.

“It was a different set of circumstances,” said the county attorney, in comparing Teller’s case to that of El Paso County.

The commissioners reacted favorably to the news and inquired about details of the federal immigration enforcement program.

“We are interested in preserving the civil liberties of everyone,” said Commission Chairman Norm Steen. The commissioners also cited the importance of keeping the county safe.

Hurcomb told the board that the Teller agency is now the sole county sheriff department in Colorado to partake in the 287g immigration enforcement effort. “We could become a jail model,” said the attorney.

He cautioned, however, that under the agreement crafted between ICE and the Teller sheriff’s office, the trained immigration deputies can only monitor cases at the jail. They can’t try to pursue possible illegal immigrant cases around the county. In other words, there will be no rounding up of suspected illegal immigrant workers on a county-wide basis. 

In earlier statements, sheriff department leaders concede that Teller is not exactly a hotbed for illegal immigration. Their issue deals with the huge spike in illegal marijuana grow operations, often involving drug cartel-related aliens from outside the country. “My main concern is not about rounding up immigrants. My main concern will always be that we must protect the citizens from the type of bad people that we are going after,” said Mikesell in an earlier interview.