Laguna Beach, CA – A DACA recipient got an $18,750 payday from the city after Laguna Beach police turned him over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after he was arrested for drunk driving.
A judge approved the financial settlement between Edgar Torres Gutierrez and Laguna Beach on Jan. 16 that also required the Laguna Beach Police Department to train all their officers on immigration law in California, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Torres Gutierrez, a sociology student at Orange Coast College, was arrested on June 3, 2018 on suspicion of driving under the influence on the way home from celebrating the city’s first gay PRIDE day, KABC reported.
According to the lawsuit filed in November of 2018 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California and the University of California Irvine School of Law’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, Laguna Beach police notified ICE agents that they had Torres Gutierrez in custody.
Then Torres Gutierrez was held at the Laguna Beach police station at the request of ICE for 15 hours before he was transferred into federal custody.
Torres Gutierrez, who came the United States illegally as a child, told KABC that he is registered to be in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and he had never worried before about the risk of being deported.
His lawsuit argued that the Laguna Beach police notified ICE and held him on their detainer request in direct defiance of the California Values Act, which prohibits local law enforcement agencies from working with federal immigration enforcement authorities.
Torres Gutierrez was transferred into a federal facility in Los Angeles, questioned by ICE agents, and then released the same day, the Los Angeles Times reported.
He later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of reckless driving in the drunk driving case that brought him to the authorities’ attention in the first place.
“I still think about my experience with the Laguna Beach police,” Torres Gutierrez said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times. “When the officer told me I was not going to be able to go home, I became fearful. I also felt betrayed.”
“I take responsibility for the actions that led to my arrest, but I didn’t deserve to be treated differently than other residents who put their trust in the police,” he added.
Following the settlement agreement, Torres Gutierrez said he filed a formal complaint with the Laguna Beach Police Department in the hope that it would spark an internal investigation in the handling of his arrest and transfer into ICE custody, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The complaint to the police department alleged that officers violated his constitutional rights to due process and against unlawful search and seizure.
Torres Gutierrez also complained that officers failed to tell him they had notified ICE and violated state law in doing so, the Los Angeles Times reported.
He said that he hoped the payout by Laguna Police would serve to encourage other DACA recipients and illegal immigrants to come forward with complaints.
“If you think your rights have been violated, it’s important to speak up and seek help,” he said. “There are organizations that will galvanize to help you and seek justice.”
The organizations that filed the lawsuit on behalf of Torres Gutierrez saw the settlement as a victory for immigrants’ rights, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“I’m really happy that [Torres Gutierrez] got an outcome that he wanted,” said Evan Ormond, a law student from UC Irvine who helped with the case. “It was a really long process… for him, and the initial experience was traumatic for him.”
“We hope the complaint we filed [Wednesday] will result in some sort of additional changes or acknowledgment from the Laguna Beach Police Department,” Ormond said. “[Torrez Gutierrez] wanted some institutional change to result from this.”