US citizen cab drivers sue federal immigration agents over being held for hours as part of a sting operation.
A trio of innocent cab drivers are suing the federal government after they were detained for several hours in a Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sting operation even though they were US citizens who had done absolutely nothing wrong. The Third Circuit US Court of Appeals on Thursday agreed to give the drivers an opportunity to restate their claim.
Beginning in 2009, ICE agents began working with the parking authority in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to obtain the list of licensed cab drivers to cross-check whether any of them were illegal aliens. As part of a sting operation, the suspected illegals were sent a letter stating they were overcharged by the parking authority and that they could come to the Philadelphia Parking Authority headquarters on June 30, 2010 to pick up their refund. Once they arrived, the drivers provided identification, date of birth and Social Security numbers to an ICE agent. They were instructed to enter another room to receive the "refund."
Once in the other room, the cab drivers were thrown up against the wall and handcuffed. They were told they were under arrest while fourteen immigration agents stood guard. The drivers who were US citizens protested. Oliver Lawal, for example, had his valid US passport in his cab, which the immigration agents had already towed to an undisclosed location. Despite proving their citizenship, they were told they could not leave because they might tell other cab drivers what was going on and ruin the sting. The citizens were ordered to sit down and not speak.
The citizens sued on the grounds that the government agents were careless in putting citizens on the list, that they were arrested without probable cause and that they were not immediately released once the agents realized their mistake. They argued the detention violated their Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. A district court judge last year dismissed the complaint saying the ICE agents were immune from prosecution. The three-judge appellate panel had a different take. The judges had no problem with the initial seizure for the purpose of an immigration check, but what followed was questionable.
"While there may be circumstances where there is reasonable basis to detain a person suspected of no wrongdoing, the allegations -- plaintiffs' detention for several hours after they were no longer suspected of wrongdoing and the absence of allegations of serious criminal law violations or a dangerous, dynamic situation -- may constitute an unlawful seizure under the Fourth Amendment," Judge Patty Shwartz wrote for the appellate court.
The judges found the case against the ICE agents was overly broad and had to be narrowed before a final decision could be made.
"To resolve the ambiguity regarding the precise actions each individual defendant allegedly took, we will provide plaintiffs a final opportunity to file a pleading that provides the factual enhancements that specify the acts each individual defendant allegedly took, explains whether each defendant personally engaged in the acts or if the actions were taken at the specific defendant's direction, and includes facts concerning the reasonableness of plaintiffs' detention," Judge Shwartz ruled.
A copy of the decision is available in a 130k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: Lawal v. McDonald (US Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, 12/19/2013)