Florida sheriffs accuse federal authorities of demanding illegal detentions

Jerry Demings and Florida Sheriffs Association

Florida’s sheriffs are mad at federal authorities for calling them out for not taking what the sheriffs believe are illegal actions.

The Florida Sheriff’s Association is charging that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is asking them to illegally detain prisoners. And when the sheriffs refuse, they risk being being spotlighted for failing to detain criminal aliens, through a weekly national list of sheriffs that ICE claims are being uncooperative with federal authorities.

“Sheriffs have to follow the law. And we are being asked to do something by the federal government that at least nine – nine – federal courts have said we can’t do,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said at a press conference held Tuesday by the Florida Sheriffs Association.

“At the very least it’s a public perception nightmare for sheriffs across the country,” Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, president of the FSA.

At issue is a strategy invoked by the administration of President Donald Trump to send out detainer requests to sheriffs and jail managers, anytime an undocumented alien is arrested for a crime. The detainer requests that the sheriffs and jailers hold the prisoner until ICE agents can come get him or her, up to 48 hours. But the requests offer no legal authority for the sheriffs or jailers to continue to hold prisoners who make bail or are set to be released through conventional channels.

And if the sheriffs or jailers release the prisoners as the law requires, instead of holding them longer, they wind up getting cited in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s weekly “Declined Detainer Outcome Report,” which the Trump administration began publishing two weeks ago.

ICE officials declined Wednesday to comment on the sheriffs’ complaints, or their assertion that the detainers call for them to illegally detain prisoners. However, they released a statement issued earlier when such complaints began to arrive.

“While DHS has not retreated from its position that detainers serve as a legally-authorized request, upon which a law enforcement agency may rely, to continue to maintain custody of the alien for up to 48 hours so that ICE may assume custody for removal purpose, ICE continues to allow law enforcement agencies to provide us with advanced notification of an individual’s release so that we may make arrangements to transfer custody at the time the alien was already scheduled for release by the local,” the statement read.

So far, two Florida authorities have made the Homeland Security DDOR list, the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, and the St. Lucie County Jail.

Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell said the listing brought her office “great notoriety” and said the DHS releases are misleading and frustrating.

“I consider the list the ‘smart list,'” she added. “They are sheriffs who know the law.”

“The implication that Alachua County and other counties on the list are not cooperating with ICE or Homeland Security, that is simply not the case, at least from the state of Florida,” Darnell said. “When people are booked into our jail who are foreign-born, we notify ICE, and give them the release date.”

Also in response to early complaints from sheriffs, federal authorities now are sending federal warrants along with the detainer requests.

The warrant, the Department of Homeland Security said in its response statement, “will help mitigate future litigation risk and will further our efforts to ensure that our law enforcement partners will honor our detainers.”

But it doesn’t help any, Gualtieri said. That’s because they’re federal warrants and local sheriffs have no legal authority to execute them, he said.

“We support and cooperate with ICE with their efforts to identify and deport criminal aliens,” Demings concluded. “However, we also swear under oath to protect, support and defend the U.S. Constitution. And that really is what we sheriffs intend to do.”

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].

One comment

  • Kendra

    April 5, 2017 at 10:02 pm

    Cops were probably among the most supportive demographic in Trump’s camp. I swear this administration is hell-bent on manipulating, lying, strong-arming, and undermining its way into being loathed by virtually every faction of the US population.

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