News Room

Operation Linebacker: El Paso Sheriff must comply with the Constitution; not stop people based on the color of their skin
July 13, 2006

The El Paso County Commissioners' Court approved on Monday, July 10, a settlement of a civil rights lawsuit against the El Paso County Sheriff's department's use of Operation Linebacker funds to target people who look like immigrants.

Written by Senator Eliot Shapleigh, www.shapleigh.org

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The El Paso County Commissioners' Court approved on Monday, July 10, a settlement of a civil rights lawsuit against the El Paso County Sheriff's department's use of Operation Linebacker funds to target people who look like immigrants.

The lawsuit, filed on May 26, alleged that sheriff's deputies violated Carl Starr's civil rights while illegally enforcing federal immigration laws. The suit also claimed the deputies violated Starr's Constitutional protections against unreasonable searches, seizures and detentions.

The settlement requires that El Paso County Sheriff Leo Samaniego provide a clear written policy prohibiting deputies from enforcing federal immigration laws and to train sheriff's deputies on the limits of their authority to enforce those laws.

"When immigration stops are made away from the Rio Grande, what is probable cause for a stop, detention and interrogation -- simply the color of one's skin? Unless laws clearly define who gets certified, who gets trained and who oversees those with the power to arrest, then in restaurants, on the streets and in the schools, Americans will be stopped, detained and interrogated just for 'looking Mexican,'" Senator Shapleigh asked during a press conference held on June 19.

At the press conference, Senator Shapleigh discussed the case Murillo v. Musegades with lead plaintiff Ben Murillo. Murillo had been a coach at Bowie High School in 1991 when he was stopped by Border Patrol and had a gun placed to his head. In the case, the Border Patrol had stopped Murillo based on the color of his skin.

Judge Lucius Bunton held in Murillo, "The…individuals…, all United States citizens and legal permanent residents of Hispanic descent, have been insulted, humiliated, degraded, and embarrassed each time they were either stopped, questioned, detained, frisked, arrested, searched, or physically or verbally abused by [the Border Patrol." He continued, "The stopping, questioning, detaining frisking, arresting, and searching of individuals based solely upon racial and ethnic appearance reprehensibly violates the Fifth Amendment [of the U.S. Constitution]."

The Sheriff's Department is also required to comply with the mandates of S.B. 1074, passed in 2001. S.B. 1074 is a state law that:

• Specifically prohibits racial profiling by state and local law enforcement;

• Mandates that each law enforcement agency in the state adopt a detailed written policy on racial profiling; and

• Requires law enforcement agencies to collect race data for traffic stops and creates a process by which citizens can file complaints about being targeted through racial profiling.


Senator Shapleigh said his office will monitor Operation Linebacker activities up and down the Texas-Mexico Border to protect against future abuse.

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