The Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office has formally denied allegations of racial profiling lodged against it by a Baton Rouge man of Hispanic descent who was detained for several days last year after a drunken-driving arrest.
Ramon Torres was arrested Aug. 31, 2018, and held by sheriff's deputies for four days after a judge ordered him released on a misdemeanor DWI count while authorities checked his immigration status, even though they already had in their possession documents showing he was a U.S. citizen.
Torres, 31, filed a federal lawsuit Aug. 21 against the Ascension Sheriff's Office; interim Sheriff Bobby Webre; Paul Hall, the current Ascension jail warden; David Dykes, the warden at the time of the arrest; and other unnamed jail staff or supervisors.
Ascension Parish sheriff's deputies held a Baton Rouge man of Hispanic descent for four days after a judge ordered him released on a misdemean…
An attorney for the defendants on Friday filed an answer to the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge, claiming their actions were "reasonable in light of the clearly established law at the time."
James Mullaly with the Usry & Weeks law firm stated in the formal answer that the defendants' actions were "taken in good faith and with probable cause, without malice, and under laws believed to be constitutional."
Mullaly argued further that their actions were "reasonable, justified and legally permissible under the circumstances."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, which is representing Torres, alleged in the lawsuit that he was the victim of a Sheriff's Office policy that targets Hispanics. The group claims deputies held Torres without cause, in violation of his rights under the U.S. Constitution.
A state district judge ordered Torres' released on his own recognizance on Sept. 1, 2018, a day after state troopers arrested him on suspicion of first-offense drunken driving. Although one of Torres' co-workers produced Torres' U.S. certificate of naturalization, his Social Security card, his Honduran birth certificate and his U.S. passport last Sept. 1, deputies didn't release him until Sept. 4, 2018, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit claims deputies had no basis to suspect Torres was not a U.S. citizen after receiving the documentation, and also notes that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents never requested that Torres be held.
Katie Schwartzmann, legal director for the ACLU of Louisiana, has said Torres was held in jail for four days "simply because he has brown skin and a Latino name." She labeled it unconstitutional racial profiling.
Torres said that, when he was leaving the parish jail, a female sheriff's administrator explained the delay, the lawsuit claims.
"Administrator Jane Doe responded to Mr. Torres that APSO contacts ICE pertaining to all Latino arrestees, resulting in 'holds' that delay their release," the lawsuit alleges.
Online jail records show Torres was held on a "detainer" as an out-of-state fugitive until it was lifted Sept. 4, 2018. Bryan Cox, an ICE spokesman for Louisiana, has said the agency had not issued a detainer for Torres.
Torres was able to leave jail after a lawyer went to court to seek his release, the lawsuit says.
Torres was born in Honduras and entered this country with his family as a young child, according to the lawsuit. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2009.
The lawsuit asks the court to declare the Sheriff’s Office's actions unconstitutional and to award Torres damages.