Jose Sanchez lawsuit: $30K settlement in racial profiling case includes new police training

Update: At a meeting last night, the Denver City Council approved a $30,000 payment to settle a lawsuit over alleged Denver Police racial profiling. Equally important, says the ACLU's Mark Silverstein, is a DPD agreement to improve training to try to prevent such incidents in the future.

Last July, according to a lawsuit on view below, Sanchez was at the home of his girlfriend, Carreras, when he stepped outside for a smoke -- and after Denver cops heard him speaking Spanish, they asked him for an ID. The one he gave them was an employment authorization card issued to him by the Department of Homeland Security under the provisions of his visa, which identified him as a non-citizen in the country legally and authorized to work. But the officers didn't recognize it and placed him under arrest. He wound up spending five days in jail and losing his job in the process -- and Silverstein points out that authorities didn't realize their error until after his release.

"Our client spent five days in jail because that's how long it took before he raised enough money to get out," he says. "The police didn't actually confirm that he had a valid ID until they began their internal investigation, which was prompted by an e-mail from City Councilman Paul Lopez. Apparently, our client's immigration lawyer had told the councilman about the case, and he made an inquiry. That's what prompted the investigation, and they quickly realized the card was current and valid."

Indeed, Silverstein believes that if the Denver Police had called Homeland Security immediately, rather than simply assuming the card was bogus, Sanchez "would have been out within an hour." However, that's not how the procedure worked. At the time, "police immediatelyi turned everything over to the prosecution."

That's changing as a result of the agreement prompted by the lawsuit. In the future, Silverstein says, "the police will initiate the conversation with the Department of Homeland Security to check on the validity or non-validity of the ID they think is false." In addition, the department will institute new training for Denver Police officers to help them better recognize valid Homeland Security IDs, as well as "to develop training for all officers on unconscious bias and best practices concerning bias policing that will specifically address people who speak English as a second language and people who are immigrants. Because that was another issue in this case. The police seemed too quick to jump to the conclusion that our client was a so-called illegal immigrant. When they saw the ID, they asked, 'How many more of these do you have? What street corner did you buy this at?'"

Silverstein praises the Denver City Attorney's Office for agreeing to put these new policies and training procedures in place, rather than dragging out the lawsuit, which was filed in March. He believes the settlement "sends a message to officers that they need to be careful in making judgments and jumping to conclusions. They need to base their actions and their arrests on evidence, not stereotypes."

Look below for our previous coverage.

Original post, 11:35 a.m. December 5: Tonight, Denver City Council will reportedly vote on a $30,000 settlement over a racial profiling lawsuit filed by Jose Sanchez and Joshinna Carreras. ACLU of Colorado's Mark Silverstein has agreed not to talk details until after the vote -- but here's how he described the case in our March post about the Sanchez suit.

Last July, as we noted, Sanchez was visiting the home of Carreras, his girlfriend, when he stepped outside to smoke a cigarette. According to the complaint, he was speaking to someone in Spanish when police officers approached and asked for his identification. When he said the ID card was in the house, they went inside with him, rather than allowing him to retrieve it and return, even though Carreras was in the shower at the time. When she emerged, the cops allegedly told her they'd been given permission to search her apartment -- an assertion the lawsuit disputes.

In the end, Carreras tracked down Sanchez's ID -- an employment authorization card issued by the Department of Homeland Security. However, officers decided it was phony and arrested Sanchez. He wound up lingering in jail for five days, losing his job in the process, before he was released. In the end, all charges were dropped.

When we asked if such incidents are common, Silverstein said, "I think that's one of the things we're going to find out. This is a case where officers treated our client as though he were a so-called illegal immigrant. They charged him with violating a Denver ordinance that forbids him from presenting false identification, even though the photo ID card he produced was a valid and current card issued by Homeland Security. They asked him, 'How many more of these do you have? What street corner did you buy this on?'"

This inability to recognize a valid federal ID "demonstrates that more and better training of Denver Police officers is necessary," Silverstein told us. "If they're going to be making judgments on the validity of ID cards, they'd better be able to recognize one that's valid and authentic." Silverstein was also critical of the fact that Sanchez was left behind bars for the better part of a week when "all the police would have had to do was send some kind of transmission to Homeland Security to check on the card. If they had, they would have found out within an hour that Jose Sanchez had been issued an employment verification card."

Look for a future update on the council's actions. In the meantime, here's the lawsuit.

Jose Sanchez vs. City and County of Denver
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