The lawsuit, announced Wednesday, was filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court last week by D.C.-based Judicial Watch on behalf of Santa Clara County resident Howard A. Myers. The suit seeks an injunction against the policy, which came under national scrutiny following the slaying of San Jose resident Bambi Larson in February.
Police say Larson was stabbed in her home by Carlos Arevalo Carranza, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador who had been arrested multiple times on drug, burglary and other charges but never held in custody for immigration authorities.
Critics contend the killing could have been prevented had local authorities listened to ICE, which asked Santa Clara County six times to detain Arevalo Carranza past his release date so it could intercept him. The county’s top law-enforcement officials have called for the county to change its no-notification policy.
Judicial Watch filed in Myers’ name to give the suit local standing, and names Sheriff Laurie Smith as the primary defendant, although the sanctuary protections at issue stem from a county policy approved by the Board of Supervisors.
“Sanctuary policies are illegal and deadly,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement. “Our new taxpayer lawsuit simply seeks to stop tax dollars from being spent on a sanctuary policy that harms public safety and undermines the rule of law.”
The Sheriff’s Office, County Counsel’s Office, and other county officials either deferred or did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday. Judicial Watch is a longtime conservative watchdog group that has scrutinized figures including former President Bill Clinton and flashpoint issues like the Mueller investigation, primarily through a steady stream of federal records requests and litigation.
After Larson’s death, a huge public discussion ensued in national media and in the supervisors’ chambers. It pitted immigrant and civil-rights advocates fearful of local police becoming de facto immigration agents against law-enforcement leaders and groups who said the policies prevented authorities from taking dangerous criminals off the street.
Ultimately, the supervisors decided to keep the sanctuary policy in place, saying that local authorities cannot readily or independently verify the immigration status of inmates, and that ICE has proved unreliable, in some cases arresting U.S. citizens.
Federal courts have ruled that it is unconstitutional for local law enforcement to detain someone solely on the basis of a civil ICE detainer, without probable cause or a judicial warrant. California’s sanctuary law also prohibits honoring ICE detainers.
But state law does allow local law enforcement to notify ICE of inmates’ release dates if they have committed serious or violent felonies or felonies punishable by state prison. Santa Clara County’s policy, like San Francisco’s, is stricter than the state standard.
Arevalo Carranza remains in the Main Jail in San Jose where he is being held without bail. His next court date is Oct. 18. The Judicial Watch lawsuit is scheduled to be addressed in court Oct. 17.
Staff writer Thy Vo contributed to this report.
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