The American Civil Liberties Union is suing Lincoln County Sheriff Roby Bowe, claiming he illegally detained a man at the request of federal officials.
Bowe maintains that the Sheriff's Office routinely detains suspects at the request of federal agencies.
The lawsuit filed Oct. 31 in Lincoln County District Court claims the sheriff has no legal right to hold Augustin Ramon, 32, of Eureka.
Court documents indicate that Ramon has been in the Lincoln County Jail since Aug. 3, when Eureka Police Officer Grigori Neils arrested him on suspicion of burglary.
According to Neils' case report, Ramon was arrested after he was allegedly found in a neighbor's residence while looking for prescription pain medication. Ramon said he stole the medications for his wife, Lily McNair. According to Neils' report, McNair was under investigation for stealing 30 pain pills.
The same day of Ramon's arrest, the jail received a U.S. Department of Homeland Security immigration detainer from the U.S. Border Patrol in Eureka, asking the Sheriff's Office to hold Ramon.
Such a detainer asserts that immigration officials believe a prisoner may be an immigrant that could be deported from the U.S. The request asks the jail to hold the prisoner for an additional 48 hours after the person would otherwise be released, such as upon posting bail. That time is intended for officials to determine if the person will be taken custody by federal officials to begin the process of removing the individual from the U.S.
The detainer sent to the Lincoln County Jail indicates the agency has evidence showing Ramon “either lacks immigration status or notwithstanding such status is removable under U.S. immigration law.”
According to an affidavit, McNair paid a bail-bond company to post bail against Ramon's $25,000 bond. When a bondsman attempted to post it, jail officials “refused to release Mr. Ramon, even after The Bondsman sought to post the full bail amount, because Mr. Ramon is subject to an Immigration Detainer,” the affidavit states.
Ramon on Monday was still incarcerated in the county jail. A hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday.
“Any Montanan should be concerned that a citizen can be held without probable cause,” ACLU of Montana Legal Director Alex Rate said. “That is one of the bedrock principles of our criminal justice system.”
Ramon has dual citizenship in Mexico and France, court documents indicate. He has lived in Montana since April and married McNair May 17 in Flathead County.
“Montana law is clear,” said Shahid Haque, an attorney with the Border Crossing Law Firm, in a news release. “When an immigrant posts bond, they must be released from custody, just like anyone else. Sheriff Bowe must comply with state law.”
The lawsuit seeks to end the use of ICE detainers for all current and future prisoners in the Lincoln County Jail who are the subject of such detainers — a practice that is not limited to Lincoln County. Other law enforcement agencies in Montana have also held people for ICE when they are suspected of being immigrants.
The lawsuit also seeks Ramon's release and compensation for what is termed his unlawful incarceration.
Bowe said Monday that he is “not worried about [the lawsuit] at all.”
“They're just kind of manipulating the system a little bit, and they're making it sound like we're holding him without any kind of cause or that we don't have authority to hold him,” he said.
Bowe said that upon learning a 48-hour hold would go into effect upon the posting of bail, the bondsman did not post it, which is why the 48-hour hold never went into effect and why Ramon remains in jail awaiting a hearing on the felony burglary charge he faces.
The Sheriff's Office routinely complies with detainer requests from various federal agencies — including the FBI, ATF and DEA — and detainers are sought for people who are in the country legally as well as illegally, Bowe said.
“Everyone gets treated the same,” he said.
According to Neils' case report, Ramon's Mexican passport is invalid but his France passport is current. “Ramon's intention on living here with his wife violates his France passport,” he wrote.
Lincoln County Attorney Marcia Boris said Friday by email that a copy of the complaint has been provided to the county's insurer, the Montana Association of Counties, whose defense counsel will represent Lincoln County.
Reporter Scott Shindledecker of the Daily Inter Lake contributed to this report.