A Florida man who tried to turn himself in to authorities when he tested positive for marijuana use, in violation of his probation agreement, instead found himself ensnared by ICE and facing imminent deportation.
When 50-year-old Peter Sean Brown, an American citizen born in Philadelphia, was fingerprinted during his April 5, 2018, routine booking into Monroe County Jail, Florida, his identity was flagged in the centralized database shared by federal and local authorities as an undocumented immigrant from Jamaica, and ICE agents set the wheels in motion for his eventual deportation to Jamaica – a country he’d visited just once, for a day, during a cruise years ago.
ICE said they had “biometric confirmation” that Brown was wanted by immigration authorities. The jail’s online inmate locator listed Brown as having an ICE detainer against him, stating that he was 7 feet tall (he’s 5' 7”) and listing an incorrect birth date.
Because Monroe County Sheriff’s Department, like hundreds of other sheriff’s departments across the country, formally cooperates with federal immigration authorities, it can hold individuals on behalf of ICE for 48 hours after their scheduled release, until ICE can pick them up. It can be a profitable arrangement: Monroe County has a “BOA” or Basic Ordering Agreement, with ICE, meaning that they receive $50 a day per detainee they hold for ICE.
“Mr. Brown was shocked and frightened to learn that he had been flagged for deportation,” states the federal complaint filed Monday against Monroe County Sheriff Richard A. Ramsay by the American Civil Liberties Union and other immigrants rights groups on behalf of Brown. “He immediately began telling nearly every jail employee he encountered that he was a U.S. citizen, born in Philadelphia, and that they should not be holding him for ICE.”
On April 8, Brown filed a written complaint against the sheriff from inside the jail stating that he was being held on a “false immigration detainer.” “I am and have always been a U.S. citizen,” Brown wrote. According to the complaint, he tried to call ICE two times from the jail using the phone numbers listed on the detainer form faxed to the jail. “But he was never able to reach a live person,” the complaint says. “On one call he was sent through an endless loop of automated messages, which never allowed him to speak to an actual person. On the other call, the phone just rang and rang, and never reached a person or even an answering machine.
Brown filed another written complaint on April 16 against the sheriff’s department. This time, the jail responded in writing, explaining that they would hold him for ICE regardless. “It is not up to us to determine the validity of the ICE hold,” a jail official wrote. “That is between you, your attorney and ICE.”
On April 26, Brown went to a court hearing for his probation violation. A judge ordered an end to his detention. Rather than be released, like the judge ordered, sheriff’s deputies took him back to the jail, where he remained on an ICE detainer. “Mr. Brown renewed his pleas for the Sheriff to release him because he was a U.S. citizen,” the complaint states. “The Sheriff’s officers mocked him. After Mr. Brown told them he was born in Philadelphia, one of the guards sang him the theme song to the 1990s sitcom “Fresh Prince of Bel Air”, whose main character is from Philadelphia. He filed another written complaint. The following morning, he was woken up by jail guards and told to pack his bags. He learned he was being transferred to an immigrant detention facility in Miami around 160 miles north of Monroe County.
During the transfer procedure, Brown said that he again told jail staff that he was a U.S. citizen. ‘He signed all documents by writing “U.S. Citizen” after his name,” the complaint states. “Jail staff again mocked him. One of them told Mr. Brown “Yeah, whatever, mon, everything’s gonna be alright” in a Jamaican accent.”
He was transported by bus, along with other ICE detainees, to the Krome Detention Center in Miami. When he got there, he told ICE agents he was a U.S. citizen. “Unlike the Sheriff’s Office, ICE officers agreed to look at Mr. Brown’s birth certificate, which his roommate emailed over that afternoon,” the complaint states.
Brown is now seeking a declaration from Sheriff Ramsay that his detention constituted false imprisonment in violation of his civil rights, as well as compensatory damages.
Monroe County did not respond to VICE News' request for comment as of press time.