ACLU Oregon files lawsuit alleging wrongful detainment of US citizen, violation of state sanctuary laws

By April Ehrlich (OPB)
Dec. 11, 2021 10:16 p.m. Updated: Dec. 13, 2021 5:36 p.m.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon announced Friday that it has filed a lawsuit against Washington County, the United States government and the state prison in The Dalles for allegedly wrongfully arresting and detaining a man, then turning him over to immigration officials.

The lawsuit says Abel Tovar Hernandez, 32, was houseless when he was arrested in March 2020 for taking a pair of socks from a department store. It alleges he served a sentence for a probation violation in Washington County, then he was told he would be released to someone waiting for him outside; he thought it would be his mother. Instead of exiting the jail, it says, officials handed him to Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents, even though he repeatedly told them he was a U.S. Citizen.


Tovar Hernandez was born in Mexico and became a U.S. Citizen in April 2000, according to the complaint.

After he was handed to immigration officials, Tovar Hernandez was transported to the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facilities in The Dalles while ICE agents “mocked him along the way,” according to an ACLU Oregon press release, and he was jailed for another two days until his family hired an attorney.


The lawsuit alleges Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations, false arrest, and false imprisonment, among other claims.

“This is a clear case where law enforcement, both at the local level and at the federal level, targeted Mr. Tovar Hernandez because of the color of his skin, and that simply is not right,” said Sandy Chung, executive director of ACLU Oregon.

Earlier this year Oregon lawmakers passed the Sanctuary Promise Act, prohibiting local law enforcement and other state agencies from sharing immigration information with federal immigration authorities or otherwise assisting immigration law enforcement. That law added to Oregon’s decades-old sanctuary law that prohibited Oregon officials from arresting people for being undocumented.

It also made it so Oregonians can bring a private right of action when law enforcement or other agencies in Oregon break those sanctuary laws.

Tovar Hernandez’s complaint asks for a declaration that his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated, as well as costs of suit and attorneys fees.

Correction: Sandy Chung is the executive director of ACLU Oregon. Her first name was incorrect in an earlier version of this story. OPB regrets the error.


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