Woman's arrest sparks new controversy surrounding immigration lawsuit

April 22, 2019 09:19 AM

A woman who is already part of a class-action civil rights lawsuit against Nobles County in southwestern Minnesota is now accusing sheriff's deputies of harassment after they arrested her on an invalid warrant in December 2018.

Maria de Pineda first spoke to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS in October. She's among four named plaintiffs suing Nobles County and its Sheriff Kent Wilkening, accusing him of exceeding his authority by unlawfully holding people suspected of violating immigration law.


Related: ACLU Lawsuit Challenges Nobles County Detention Policy

In February 2018, Worthington police officers arrested de Pineda for identity theft and forgery – an alleged crime for which de Pineda said she is regretful, but even after her family posted her bond, the Sheriff's Office kept de Pineda locked up for another 17 days at the request of immigration authorities.

"That is a constitutional violation," said Norm Pentelovitch, lead attorney in the lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota. "Our lawsuit is all about whether a state law enforcement officer has any authority to honor that request."

Last year, the county and Wilkening denied any wrong-doing and said they were merely following a long-time detention contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

But two months after de Pineda appeared in a 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS report talking about her lawsuit, deputies with the Nobles County Sheriff's Office arrived at her home on December 9th, 2018 and arrested her on a warrant for failing to meet with her probation officer.

The arrest was recorded on dash camera video.

"I tell them 'you're wrong. I report[ed] last Monday [to] my probation officer,'" de Pineda said.

Nobles County forced de Pineda to spend one more night in jail, but internal jail records obtained by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS later confirmed what de Pineda told deputies, that "she should not have been arrested because the warrant was quashed."

A judge had canceled the warrant more than a month earlier.

Amanda Delaney, an assistant public defender in Nobles County, says it's extremely uncommon for law enforcement to arrest someone on a quashed warrant.

"I've never seen it happen," said Delaney who isn't involved in de Pineda's case.

"It's a big deal in people's lives to get picked up on a warrant like that, so for someone to be arrested on a warrant that wasn't even valid? That is disappointing," Delaney said.

In his report, one of the deputies who arrested de Pineda wrote: "The warrant was confirmed through dispatch," but other records show confusion about whether dispatch had been notified that the warrant was canceled. 

In a bulletin published by the ACLU, the author wrote: "Now we believe deputies are harassing Maria."

De Pineda echoed the same sentiment about her arrest in December.

"I think it's because I spoke up and filed a lawsuit for my rights," she said in Spanish.

Nobles County Sheriff Wilkening has not yet agreed to talk about de Pineda's arrest.

For several weeks, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS repeatedly requested an interview with the Wilkening via phone calls, e-mails, and visits to the Sheriff's Office in Worthington.

"What is happening to my client in this arrest is a continuation, or seems to be another example of the type of conduct that the Nobles County Sheriff's Department engages in," Pentelovitch said.

In October, a judge approved a temporary restraining order, blocking the Nobles County Sheriff for holding people on behalf of ICE.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison recently filed a brief in support of the ACLU's lawsuit, calling the "ICE holds" by the Sheriff's Office a "violation of Minnesota law."

Attorneys say the lawsuit is still pending, but it may still be a year before the case goes to trial.

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Eric Rasmussen

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