HARRISBURG - The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania announced today that it has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the borough of Jim Thorpe in Carbon County and two police officers over a traffic stop that occurred in February 2018. The ACLU of Pennsylvania represents Arturo Jonas Joaquin Marte of Philadelphia, who was the passenger in a vehicle with two other Latino men when they were stopped by Jim Thorpe police officer Kyle Oliver and another unknown officer.
The officers claimed they stopped the vehicle due to a plastic cover on its license plate, but the cover was clear enough that they were able to run a check on the plate before stopping the vehicle. Oliver and his colleague then did not issue a citation for the license plate cover but detained Mr. Joaquin Marte and his fellow passengers. Mr. Joaquin Marte was detained for nearly four hours until federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrived.
“The reality in this case is that Jim Thorpe police initiated this traffic stop because the people in the vehicle were Latino,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Despite their flimsy excuse for the stop, they didn't even bother to issue a traffic citation but, instead, unlawfully held Mr. Joaquin Marte for nearly four hours. The police in this borough are not immigration agents and, thus, do not have authority to enforce federal civil immigration law."
The lawsuit was filed last week in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. In the complaint outlining the lawsuit, the ACLU argues that Officer Oliver and the second officer illegally stopped the vehicle without reasonable suspicion and then illegally detained Mr. Joaquin Marte without probable cause.
Although he was never charged with a crime, Mr. Joaquin Marte was eventually transferred to Lehigh County Prison and then to York County Prison. He is now free on a bond set by an immigration judge.
Along with Oliver and the unknown officer, the borough of Jim Thorpe is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit for failing to properly train and discipline its officers on their limitations in enforcing federal civil immigration law.
This latest lawsuit from the ACLU of Pennsylvania is the second lawsuit filed in the past year against police who improperly engage in enforcement of federal civil immigration law. Last summer, the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Pennsylvania State Police and seven troopers for a series of racially biased traffic stops. Last August, the ACLU of Pennsylvania settled a long-running lawsuit for $175,000 challenging an Allegheny County police department’s mistaken arrest of a Latina woman who was an American citizen.
“We will keep bringing these lawsuits until police in Pennsylvania and those responsible for holding them accountable get the message,” said Vanessa Stine, immigrants rights attorney for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “There is no place in this commonwealth for biased policing nor for officers who overstep their authority to enforce federal civil immigration law.”
Mr. Joaquin Marte is represented by Stine, Witold Walczak, and Muneeba Talukder of the ACLU of Pennsylvania; Jonathan Feinberg of the law firm Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg and Lin LLP; and Seth Kreimer of the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
A copy of the complaint is available at aclupa.org/Marte.