Northern Regional Police will pay $175K to settle lawsuit alleging woman’s rights were violated
The board that oversees the Northern Regional Police Department has agreed to pay a West Mifflin woman $175,000 plus legal fees to settle a federal lawsuit filed after she was jailed and reported to immigration officials during a traffic stop in Pine Township, according to court documents.
The Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of Angelica Davila in connection with a Jan. 22, 2011 traffic stop after she and a passenger drove out of the Los Campos grocery store at dusk without headlights on.
Northern Regional provides police services for Pine, Richland, Marshall and Bradford Woods.
The lawsuit alleges that police Officer Andrew Bienemann; his supervisor, Sgt. John Sicilia; and Brianna Tetrault, an agent with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, violated Davila’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizure by detaining her to “investigate her immigration status” without probable cause that she was in the U.S. illegally.
The lawsuit also contends that Davila’s Fifth Amendment right against discrimination on the basis of ethnicity was violated because she was detained based “on her Hispanic ethnicity.”
Davila, 35, was born in Mexico and immigrated to the U.S. when she was 2 years old. Her father was born a U.S. citizen and her mother became a naturalized citizen in 1997, according to the lawsuit.
Davila became a U.S. citizen in 2001 at age 16.
The lawsuit contends that Bienemann “had no reason to suspect that Davila was not a lawful resident of the United States” and that he “made the request to check Davila’s immigration status on the basis of her ethnicity and the ethnicity of her passenger.”
The passenger in her car, Joel Garrete, was in the country illegally and was deported to Honduras.
The lawsuit contends that Tetrault, likewise, had “no probable cause to believe that Davila was not legally present in the United States.”
Tetrault is accused of compounding the problem “by mistakenly determining that Davila was in the country illegally and asking Bienemann to jail her.”
Sicilia was named in the lawsuit for approving Tetrault’s request that Davila be jailed.
Although Tetrault discovered Davila was a U.S. citizen on the night she was detained and informed Bienemann within a few hours of her arrest, “he took no steps to have Davila released from the Allegheny County Jail.”
Davila was eventually released at 7:30 the following morning.
“We hope this case will dissuade local police departments from cooperating with ICE’s requests to arrest people for alleged immigration violations,” Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a news release. “It’s a warning to police departments to stay out of federal immigration enforcement.”
Allegheny County was included in the lawsuit because jail officials failed to determine whether probable cause existed to hold Davila, which violated her civil rights.
As a result of the lawsuit, the county in 2015 agreed to pay $25,000 and stop honoring federal immigration detaining orders unless they’re signed by a judge.
Davila said the lawsuit was filed to protect others.
“I didn’t understand why the officer arrested me and took me to jail,” she said in a statement. “It was only after filing a Right to Know request that I learned ICE had made a mistake about my immigration status. I filed this case because I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”
Attorneys listed for Northern Regional and the officers involved did not respond to a request for comment. Officials with the U.S. federal court in Pittsburgh declined to comment on the case.
Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tony at 724-772-6368, [email protected] or via Twitter .