Blog Archive

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hispanics sue feds over raid; Lawyer says agents target old addresses

By Brandon Gee
The Tennessean
Oct. 10, 2011

Four Nashville residents say federal agents illegally entered their apartment while looking for a fugitive at the complex.

Their attorney says the raid represents a pattern of how Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in Nashville operate. They go to an old address where the target of the raid no longer lives but go ahead and arrest whoever happens to be living there now.

“This is not the only time this has happened,” said immigration attorney Elliott Ozment, who has filed numerous lawsuits on behalf of local Hispanic residents who claimed they were mistreated by federal and local authorities. “They get an old address, they go to that old address looking for somebody who hasn’t been there in years and arrest others incidentally. That’s the way they operate.”

Ozment filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in response to the first of two controversial raids that police and immigration authorities conducted at a South Nashville apartment complex last year.

He filed the lawsuit on behalf of four former residents of the Clairmont apartment complex. Pablo Cahuec-Castro, Myra Leticia Juarez, Ottoniel Perez-Piox and Maria del Rosario Osorio say Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials illegally entered their home on Oct. 1, 2010 — with the assistance of the complex’s maintenance supervisor — and subjected them to unreasonable searches and unlawful seizures.

The Oct. 1 arrests were followed by a much larger ICE operation on Oct. 20, 2010, that included the Metro Nashville Police Department and resulted in 20 federal arrests. The Tennessee Immigrant Rights Coalition and the American Civil Liberties Union called a news conference after the second raid and claimed dozens of residents had their rights violated by ICE agents who broke into homes without consent and dragged people out at gunpoint in front of children.

Ozment claims his clients were treated similarly on Oct. 1.

According to the lawsuit, ICE agents threatened to break down their door and “drag every one of you out one by one” if they weren’t allowed into the apartment. The lawsuit states that the agents did not have a warrant but that Cahuec-Castro eventually let the agents in out of fear.

Fugitive not found

The agents were looking for a fugitive whom they did not find in the apartment. Cahuec-Castro and Perez-Piox were arrested after questioning and after agents found an entry matching the fugitive’s name in Cahuec-Castro’s cellphone contacts.

“Defendants violated Plaintiffs clearly established constitutional rights by arresting them after an illegal entry into their residence, unlawful and involuntary custodial interrogation, unlawful search and seizure of … Cahuec-Castro’s cellular phone, and an unlawful search of plaintiffs’ home,” the lawsuit states.

Ozment said Cahuec-Castro is now fighting deportation in immigration court and Perez-Piox has returned to Guatemala.

The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages for physical and mental pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and medical and psychological expenses, as well as punitive damages.

ICE would not comment on the lawsuit.

“ICE is precluded from commenting on pending litigation,” New Orleans-based spokesman Temple Black said. “We routinely report matters of public record when they are releasable.”

In addition to the ICE agents, the lawsuit names the Clairmont’s owner, manager and former maintenance supervisor as defendants. The complex is managed by South Carolina-based Greystar Real Estate Partners. Messages left with Greystar and Atlanta-based TriTex Real Estate Partners, which owns the complex, were not returned. The maintenance supervisor, Scott Jarvis, no longer works at the complex.

According to a Metro police news release, staff at the apartments reported a strong gang presence at the Clairmont and said employees had been threatened after the Oct. 1 arrests of Cahuec-Castro and Perez-Piox. The police gang unit said members of the MS-13 and SUR-13 gangs lived in the complex and were suspected of preying on undocumented workers there who were hesitant to report robberies and other crimes because of their immigration status, according to the release.

Police began monitoring the complex and targeting suspects after receiving the apartment managers’ complaints and ultimately conducted the raid with ICE on Oct. 20. While residents claimed they were terrorized, the news release states that officers merely conducted “knock and talks,” meaning they knocked on doors and spoke with those who answered while looking for suspects or criminal activity at the same time.

Some of the 20 people arrested that day were placed into deportation proceedings while others were released. No criminal charges were pursued. Employees at the complex said conditions have improved since the sweeps, but Ozment said the long-term impact has been harmful.

“They are full of fear, the Hispanic community, very fearful,” he said. “Now, at least, they don’t open their doors when people knock.”