June 5, 2006
PASO DEL NORTE CIVIL RIGHTS CENTER BRINGS FIRST LAWSUIT, SUES
EL PASO COUNTY OVER SHERIFF SAMANIEGOS OPERATION LINEBACKER
The Paso del Norte Civil Rights Center, which held its inaugural reception just last Tuesday, has filed its first lawsuit. The Center has taken over a pro se federal complaint, filed by El Paso resident Carl Starr on May 26, against Sheriff Leo Samaniegos Operation Linebacker program.
The amended complaint, filed today in U.S. District Court in El Paso, adds El Paso County as a defendant because Operation Linebacker is a program of the county sheriff and thus of the county.
The suit alleges that Carl Starr, of Hispanic origin, was on a public county bus en route to El Paso from Tornillo, on March 21, 2006, when an El Paso deputy sheriff began following the bus, and pulled it over. This occurred about four miles west of Fabens on highway Texas 20.
The deputy sheriff then came up to the bus drivers window and asked the driver for identification. The deputy told the driver he had touched or crossed the white line. Mr. Starr did not notice the bus cross any white line.
The deputy then asked the driver to open the bus door. He boarded the bus, and without legal cause or justification, asked Plaintiff and other passengers for identification. The deputy removed five or six passengers, of Hispanic origin, who had no identification. During this time, Mr. Starr asked the deputy if he was with Operation Linebacker, and the deputy said yes.
Ultimately, the deputy wrote the bus driver a warning ticket, and kept the men behind whom he had taken from the bus. This incident and detention lasted about thirty (30) minutes.
The suit says the deputy conducted his unlawful activities pursuant to Operation Linebacker, and the deputy engaged in illegal racial and ethnic profiling, and also sought to implement federal immigration laws without legal authority to do so. The suit also alleges that any number of unlawful searches, seizures, and detentions are conducted as part of the Countys Operation Linebacker.
Operation Linebacker has drawn severe criticism for its operation, and last week 3000 El Paso residents filed a petition, asking Sheriff Samaniego to resign because county residents have been asked for their Social Security cards and immigration papers by sheriff’s deputies during regular traffic stops, traffic checkpoints or while traveling by bus in the past few months. They said they have even been driven to immigration offices in sheriff’s patrol cars.
The suit asks for reasonable damages and that the federal judge halt Operation Linebacker.
Carl Starr is represented by two attorneys for the Paso del Norte Civil Rights Center, Ed Hernández of El Paso and Jim Harrington of Austin, also director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, which supports the Paso del Norte Center.