ORLANDO, Florida – An undocumented Honduran woman arrested and held for eight days in a Central Florida jail is suing the sheriff’s office with help from the American Civil Liberties Union.
Rita Cote’s suit against Lake County Sheriff Gary Borders was filed Tuesday with the U.S. District Court in Ocala by ACLU attorneys.
Cote, a mother of four, was arrested Feb. 16, 2009, at her home in Tavares, Florida, by municipal police responding to a call about an attack on Rita’s sister by an ex-boyfriend.
While the sister had visible bruises and wanted to press charges against her assailant, the officers focused instead on Rita, who was acting as translator because her sister didn’t speak English.
When Rita, who was a girl when her parents brought her to Florida, could not produce proof of legal residence in the United States, the cops took her into custody as her children looked on.
The Lake County sheriff’s office then held Rita for eight days without charge and kept her from talking to husband Robert Cote, a U.S. citizen and Gulf War veteran.
Rita was finally realized after the ACLU obtained a writ of habeas corpus.
“Neither the Tavares police nor Lake County had any authority or cause to detain Cote,” Glenn Katon, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Florida, told Efe.
In her suit, Cote is demanding that the sheriff’s office pay her legal costs as well as damages.
The Lake County Sheriff’s Office has not received a copy of the suit, spokesman John Herrell told Efe, declining to comment on the case.
Herrell acknowledged in March 2009 that Cote’s arrest was a mistake.
Since then, the sheriff’s office has tried to present what happened to Rita Cote as an isolated incident, ACLU lawyer Howard Marks said, even though an ACLU review of Lake County jail bookings from 2007-2009 showed that hundreds were unlawfully held.
“The truth is that no police entity can arrest and hold someone without cause or charges,” he said, stressing that local law enforcement agencies are not empowered to enforce immigration laws.
The aim of the lawsuit, according to Marks, is to set a precedent that dissuades police from engaging in “these illegal practices,” while Robert Cote said he and his family hoped the legal action would make Borders accept responsibility for his office’s actions.
Borders won re-election after campaigning on his record of deporting undocumented immigrants. EFE