ACLU sues sheriff over jailed immigrant

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The American Civil Liberties Union is suing Lincoln County Sheriff Roby Bowe, claiming he illegally detained a man at the request of federal officials.

Court documents indicate that 32-year-old Agustin Ramon has been in the Lincoln County Jail since Aug. 3 on a charge of burglary. The same day, the jail received a detainer from the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold Ramon.

An ICE detainer request asserts that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security believes a prisoner may be an immigrant that could be deported from the U.S. The request asks the jail to hold the prisoner for an additional 48 hours after the person would otherwise be released. That time is intended for officials to determine if the person will be taken custody of federal officials to begin the process of removing the individual from the U.S.

Ramon’s wife, Lily McNair, paid a bail-bond company, but when it attempted to post his $25,000 bond, jail officials told the bondsman it was futile because the sheriff would continue to hold Ramon on the ICE detainer even if the bond was paid.

Ramon is still incarcerated in the county jail.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in Lincoln County District Court claims the sheriff has no legal right to hold Ramon, and that he is protected by the Montana State Constitution.

“Any Montanan should be concerned that a citizen can be held without probable cause,” ACLU of Montana Legal Director Alex Rate said. “That is one of the bedrock principles of our criminal justice system.”

Ramon has dual citizenship in Mexico and France, court documents indicate. He has lived in Montana since April and married McNair May 17 in Flathead County.

“Montana law is clear,” said Shahid Haque, an attorney with the Border Crossing Law Firm. “When an immigrant posts bond, they must be released from custody, just like anyone else. Sheriff Bowe must comply with state law.”

Bowe was not available for comment.

The lawsuit seeks to end the use of ICE detainers for all current and future prisoners in the Lincoln County Jail who are the subject of such detainers. It also seeks compensation for Ramon’s false imprisonment.

The practice of using ICE detainers is not limited to Lincoln County. Other law enforcement agencies in Montana have also held people for ICE when they are suspected of being immigrants.

“Our goal with this lawsuit is two-fold: to bring justice to Mr. Ramon and others unlawfully detained in Lincoln County, and to end the use of detainers throughout the state of Montana,” Rate said. “Counties throughout the state should be on notice. We won’t stop until that’s a reality.”

The suit seeks Ramon’s release and compensation for what is termed his unlawful incarceration.

Ramon has applied for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction that would prohibit Bowe from refusing to release Ramon from custody and is seeking an expedited hearing on the matter within seven days of the filing, which was Oct. 31.

According to a report from the Eureka Police Department, Ramon was arrested after he was allegedly found in a neighbor’s residence while looking for prescription pain medication. Ramon said he stole the medications for his wife. The officer looking into the offense said Ramon’s wife, McNair, was under investigation for stealing 30 pain pills.

According to a court document, Ramon has a criminal hearing on the burglary charge Nov. 19.

Reporter Scott Shindledecker may be reached at 406-758-4441 or sshindledecker@dailyinterlake.com.

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