SPOKANE, Wash. – The City of Spokane reached a settlement in a lawsuit filed by a man who said he was unlawfully detained by a police officer after he was the victim of a car accident.
The settlement with Gabriel Gomez settled with the city on Tuesday. Gomez was represented by the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and the ACLU of Washington.
According to Northwest Immigrant Rights Project leaders, the city has agreed to change its policies to make clear that its police officers will not question or detain people to enforce federal immigration laws.
Gomez’s attorneys said Gomez was driving on August 24, 2014 when he was unexpectedly hit by a minivan that failed to yield to the right of way. They claim the police officer that arrived on scene contacted the United States Border Patrol to ask if they had interest in Gomez instead of investigating the car accident. His attorneys say he was singled out for this treatment because he was Latino.
Officials said the officer issued a citation to the other driver and let them leave the scene. Gomez was then detained at the scene until Border Patrol arrived and took him into custody. His attorneys said he was never provided medical treatment despite being in pain. Gomez was then transferred by immigration officials to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, where he remained until he posted bond. Gomez’s attorneys said he has a pending application for legal status to remain in the United States.
Gomez’s lawsuit alleges that the officer unlawfully detained him to investigate his immigration status and prolonged his detention to help federal immigration officers, even though city police have no authority to enforce immigration violations. The lawsuit also states that the City of Spokane’s policies unlawfully authorize officers to seize people and extend detentions for purposes of investigating and enforcing possible immigration violations.
In the settlement, the city has agreed to modify its policies to clarify that police “shall not contact, question, delay, detain or arrest an individual because s/he is suspected of violating immigration laws.” The city will also provide training to police officers on the new policies. The city will also pay $49,000 in damages and fees.
“I have lived in this community for many years, and to suddenly have the police turn against me after being a victim in the accident really turned my life upside down,” said Gomez. “I am happy for this settlement. I want to be able to trust the police.”