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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Police detention of immigrant leads to civil rights lawsuit against Spokane

A man who claims he was the victim of civil immigration enforcement at the hands of a Spokane police officer is suing the officer and the city of Spokane alleging infringment on his Fourth Amendment rights.

Gabriel Gomez Maciel, 37, filed the civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court in August. He accuses officer Mylissa Coleman of unlawfully detaining him and reporting him to U.S. Border Patrol after he was involved in a car accident three years ago.

He is seeking compensation, including punitive damages, and declarations of guilt from both parties.

“It’s important that our local counties and our cities respond to the community members and treat them with respect in an equal manner and really do provide equal justice under the law,” said Gomez Maciel’s attorney Matt Adams with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Seattle. “Otherwise you have community members who are afraid to access city services.”

The city’s attorney, Nathaniel Odle, declined to comment. Spokane spokesman Brian Coddington said the city “does not comment on pending investigations.”

On Aug. 24, 2014, Gomez Maciel was driving to church when he was unexpectedly hit by a minivan that failed to yield the right of way. Coleman, the defendant, was one of the officers called to the scene.

The complaint alleges rather than investigate the vehicle collision, Coleman detained Gomez Maciel and contacted Border Patrol, asking if they had “any interest” in the man. Gomez Maciel, who has no criminal history and who had a valid driver’s license and insurance, was made to stay at the scene before being handcuffed and placed into custody by Border Patrol.

“He was clearly the victim of this car accident, and yet the officer detained him and permits the person who caused the accident to leave,” Adams said. “There was no basis for the officer to go against Mr. Gomez, except based on the officers views of race or national origin.”

Gomez Maciel was eventually taken to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, where he bonded out for $7,000. He spent about a month in custody, which he led to him losing his job as a laborer at a plant nursery where he was making $12.50 an hour.

The suit argues Coleman did not follow prior court precedent when she detained Gomez Maciel. It cites a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision from 2012 that says “state and local law enforcement officers violate the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution when they initiate or prolong a seizure solely to investigate whether an individual is unlawfully present in the United States.”

It also cites a decision in Pierce County Superior Court that found it was a violation of the Washington constitution for “local law enforcement officers to prolong a traffic stop solely to inquire about an individual’s immigration status.” The court clarified, the lawsuit states, that this was the case “even if those officers have the legal authority to seize the individual for an offense they are authorized to enforce, but have decided not to seize the individual for that offense.”

“The bottom line is, whether short or long, it’s unlawful,” Adams said. “The law does not permit state authorities to do immigration authority for them.”

The complaint further argues that the Spokane Police Department’s policy’s are not in line with common law. In a police policy manual from 2013, it notes that officers were not authorized to “arrest foreign nationals for undocumented presence” but could prolong a detention to allow Border Patrol or other federal agents time to arrive and investigate.

“After a lawful detention or criminal arrest, officers may detain foreign nationals solely for alleged undocumented presence in the U.S. if the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is contacted and can respond to take custody with a reasonable time,” the policy reads.

That particular policy was the same in the most up-do-date policy manual published on July 21, 2017.

Gomez Maciel is also represented by the American Civil Liberties Union in Seattle.