ACLU seeks records, damages from feds in Michigan veteran's detainment

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan is seeking records from federal officials related to the controversial detention of a veteran last year on the state’s west side and claiming damages for the Marine. 

“Jilmar Ramos-Gomez fought and served our country selflessly, yet ICE tried to deport this hometown hero and blatantly disregarded his citizenship, service and mental health challenges,” said Miriam Aukerman, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan, in a statement Wednesday.

Veteran Jilmar Ramos-Gomez

“Mr. Ramos-Gomez, and the public, deserve to know why the United States government abused its own citizen and veteran, and how many others have suffered in the same way.”

The advocacy group has claimed Ramos-Gomez was experiencing a post-traumatic stress disorder-related episode when Grand Rapids authorities arrested him Nov. 21, 2018 after he allegedly trespassed and started a small fire at a hospital. 

ACLU said he pleaded guilty and was scheduled for release from Kent County Jail on Dec. 14 while awaiting sentencing. However, when Ramos-Gomez's mother went to the jail to pick him up, authorities told her he was placed in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody.

Ramos-Gomez was held for three days at a detention center 70 miles away in Battle Creek before a lawyer working for the family provided proof of citizenship. He was released Dec. 17.

Body cam footage of Ramos-Gomez's arrest obtained by The Detroit News through Freedom of Information Act requests shows Grand Rapids police officers were aware of his citizenship status and military service before placing him in custody. 

An internal investigation found Grand Rapids police Capt. Curtis VanderKooi reported Ramos-Gomez's incident to ICE officials referring to him as "loco," or crazy. The captain was briefly removed from the department.

In an administrative claim filed this week against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials, the ACLU said the government is liable to compensate Ramos-Gomez under the Federal Tort Claims Act for violations of Michigan state law, including false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence.

The group alleges ICE agents breached their duties and failed to properly train officers or provide necessary medical and mental health care for Ramos-Gomez while he was incarcerated at the Calhoun County Correctional Facility.

“Had he been a non-Latino Caucasian, it is inconceivable that ICE would have ignored all of the evidence of his citizenship and tried to deport him,” the claim read.

ACLU said the detention “worsened his PTSD to the point where he required hospitalization shortly after his release; he now rarely leaves his home or spends time in his community.”

Reached Wednesday night, Khaalid Walls, a regional spokesman, told The News: “As a matter of policy, ICE does not comment on pending litigation.”

Homeland Security officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In addition to the claim, ACLU partnered with the Chicago law firm Loevy & Loevy to file a federal lawsuit against both agencies for records related to Ramos-Gomez’s detention. 

The filing alleges ICE has failed to honor ACLU’s FOIA request in March for those documents as well as “information related to other United States citizens and lawfully present immigrants who have been arrested, detained or deported by ICE,” and “information related to ICE’s policies and procedures with respect to people with mental health issues or disabilities.”

It asks a judge to order the defendants to promptly produce the requested records and stop withholding non-exempt public records under FOIA.

The litigation comes a week after Grand Rapids agreed to pay $190,000 to Ramos-Gomez for the incident.

In August, the Grand Rapids Police Department adopted a policy intended to ensure equal enforcement of law regardless of citizenship.

The Kent County Sheriff's Office also changed its policy earlier this year on voluntarily holding detainees for ICE.