TRUST busted

After nearly being deported for playing music in his garage, a Sacramento man sues the sheriff

A Sacramento man who was arrested, detained and nearly deported last year just for playing music in his garage is now suing the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.

Attorneys for Rosemont resident Martin Del Agua filed a lawsuit last week accusing county sheriffs of unwarranted arrest and excessive use of force.

The suit, by national firm Morrison and Foerster and Advancing Justice’s Asian Law Caucus, comes on the heels of last year’s formal complaints against the department and also Sacramento County over Del Agua’s case.

SN&R covered the arrest (see “Broken TRUST” by Nick Miller, SN&R News, June 26, 2014), which occurred on February 7 of 2014. That Friday evening, Del Agua was enjoying music in his garage and playing with his two young children when law enforcement began rapping on his garage door.

Turns out, a neighbor had complained about Del Agua’s music. It also turns out that, according to Del Agua attorney Angela Chan, Del Agua had issues with said neighbor, including a restraining order.

This neighborly fracas is why the Del Agua family had video cameras inside and outside their home. And footage from these cameras shows two sheriffs throwing Del Agua against a trash can, tossing his cell phone and finally hauling him away to county jail.

The lawsuit was filed last Friday, January 23, because the county had not resolved Del Agua’s previous complaint, otherwise known as a tort claim. (Interestingly, Sheriff Scott Jones had responded to last year’s complaint by conceding that his department’s investigation “revealed substantial evidence to support [Del Agua’s] claim regarding employee misconduct.”) Del Agua is seeking monetary damages, according to his attorney.

Things got worse for Del Agua last year while at downtown’s jail, where he was detained on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold. This was illegal, however, due to a then-new act inked by Gov. Jerry Brown that disallowed ICE holds except in special cases, such as violent or drug-related crimes. Yet Del Agua remained in jail for nearly 72 hours, until volunteer lawyers were able to secure his release on a Sunday evening. If he’d stayed in jail until Monday, the lawyers say he likely would have been deported.

“The sheriff’s department was wrong in violating the TRUST Act,” attorney Angela Chan, with Advancing Justice’s Asian Law Caucus, said this past summer in reference to Del Agua’s case.

Now, Chan is suing the county for damages. She also accuses the sheriff’s department of continuing to ignore the TRUST Act and illegally detaining undocumented immigrants, citing more than a handful of cases from the past year.

Del Agua is undocumented, but has lived in Sacramento going on 15 years. His wife and children are U.S. citizens.