Nashville police, ICE paying $310K to settle ACLU lawsuit

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Five years after immigration agents and local police raided a south Nashville apartment complex, the federal and Nashville governments have agreed to pay $310,000 to 14 people who sued over constitutional violations.

Plaintiffs include 12 Hispanic immigrant men who were arrested, and an American woman and boy who were detained and questioned. As part of the settlement, deportation proceedings against eight of the plaintiffs were deferred for seven years.

Plaintiffs claimed in federal court that the immigration operation was intended to rid the Clairmont Apartments of Hispanic residents, at the request of management. Under the settlement, plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit against police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, which have denied any wrongdoing.

The settlement with the officers was announced Monday. A separate settlement with the apartment owners and management was reached earlier this year. Terms of that settlement were not disclosed.

Plaintiff Marvin Benjamin Lopez Raxcaco had been about to go to the store with some friends on Oct. 20, 2010, when their car was surrounded by immigration agents, according to the lawsuit. Although the agents had no warrants, they detained and questioned the men, then arrested them on immigration charges.

Raxcaco, speaking in Spanish, said Monday he was happy with the outcome of the lawsuit, “but the most important thing is that we hope now that this won’t happen again to anyone else.”

Nashville immigration attorney Elliot Ozment said even people who aren’t in the country legally have a right to due process under the law. “Agents of the government broke through doors and broke through windows, and they didn’t have a single warrant,” he said. “We fought for immigrants because today it’s their rights, tomorrow it could be your rights and my rights.”

The plaintiffs were also represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the law firm of Hughes, Socol, Piers, Resnick & Dym.

ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said in an emailed statement Monday, the agency “in no way admitted to any wrongdoing, and disputes many of the allegations made in the lawsuit.” He said the agency attempts to administer the nation’s immigration laws “judiciously, fairly and appropriately” and does not conduct raids that target undocumented immigrants indiscriminately.

Keli Oliver, an assistant Metropolitan Nashville attorney, also said the two police defendants did nothing wrong. She said Metro chose to settle the case because it was less expensive than going to trial. Metro paid $10,000 while the federal government paid $300,000.

Note: This updates and expands original post, which was the ACLU press release below.

News release from ACLU of Tennessee
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The American Civil Liberties Union announced a settlement in a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of victims of a warrantless raid in Nashville, Tennessee, by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and Metropolitan Nashville Police Department officers. ICE and MNPD agreed to pay $310,000 to settle all claims, and ICE granted the noncitizen plaintiffs deferred action status for seven years.

The case, Escobar v. Gaines, stemmed from a 2010 raid in which armed ICE and MNPD agents in full SWAT gear descended upon an apartment complex at night that was home to mostly Latino residents. The lawsuit alleged that agents and police stormed into and searched homes without a single warrant or consent, shouted racial slurs, and held guns to some people’s heads. Residents were detained without any reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe they had engaged in any criminal activity, and no one was ever charged with a criminal violation as a result of the raid.

The ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, ACLU of Tennessee, and firms of Ozment Law and Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym, Ltd. brought the lawsuit on behalf of numerous residents, including U.S. citizens.

“A person should never have to go through what we did,” said Marvin Benjamin Lopez Raxcaco, one of the plaintiffs. “It was terrifying, and hopefully this settlement will stop this from happening to others in the future.”

Plaintiffs sued ICE and MNPD for, among other things, conspiracy to violate their rights to be free from unlawful searches and seizures, and discriminatory conduct.
“This settlement sends a strong message to law enforcement across Tennessee and nationwide that the Constitution demands all people be treated fairly under the law, regardless of their skin color,” said ACLU attorney Andre Segura. “Agents cannot trample the Constitution because of their stereotypes and assumptions about someone’s immigration status.”

Related settlements have already been reached with private defendants, and the agreement announced today with the U.S. government and Nashville police brings the legal fight to a close.

“Every American should jealously guard against the excesses of government in violating the basic freedoms from warrantless searches and unauthorized home entries — no matter to whom it happens,” said Elliott Ozment of Ozment Law.

“More important than the monetary recovery in this settlement is the message it sends that everyone should be treated fairly under the law,” said Caryn Lederer of Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym, Ltd.

More information about this case is at: https://www.aclu.org/cases/escobar-v-gaines