A Papillion man who was detained in the Sarpy County Jail for four days in 2010 is suing the county, the sheriff and 10 jail and immigration officers, arguing that he was suspected of being in the country illegally although he is a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Ramon Mendoza, now 48, filed the lawsuit in federal court this week with the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska.
The ACLU says Mendoza was pulled over March 5, 2010, while driving in Papillion. Officers told him they stopped the car because they spotted something that might obstruct his view: his son's quarter-sized boxing medallion hanging from the rear-view mirror on a ribbon. After police discovered that Mendoza didn't have a current driver's license or proof of car insurance, they arrested him.
Mendoza gave officers his name, address and Social Security number. Jail officials called U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to check whether Mendoza was believed to be in the United States illegally and should be held — and possibly deported.
The ACLU says the jail never confirmed that Mendoza should be held, but detained him anyway.
Mendoza said jail officials told him he'd be sent to prison for 10 years and then deported to Mexico. He said that he was kept in a cell without the chance to call his wife or a lawyer and that he was harassed by the jail officers, who allegedly lobbed racial slurs and showed him a swastika.
The treatment, according to the ACLU, led Mendoza to become distressed. On his fourth day in jail, he tried to kill himself by slitting one of his wrists, according to the lawsuit.
After Mendoza was released, the suit says, he continued to feel anxious and depressed and was eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Sarpy County officials said they had just been notified of the lawsuit but planned a full investigation into the allegations.
“Such alleged activities would never be tolerated and will be investigated thoroughly,” said Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov. “It's been three years since the allegations occurred. Thousands of prisoners come and go in that jail every year and there's no other allegations raised at that level, so we're proud of that.”
The Mendozas are looking for $10,000 in damages related to medical and counseling services, along with an unspecified amount of general and punitive damages.
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