The city of Laguna Beach has agreed to pay $18,750 to a man who was held by local police for federal immigration officers in 2018 despite his status as a DACA recipient.
Under the Obama-era program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, hundreds of thousands of people who came to the United States illegally as children qualified for relief from federal deportation action.
In June 2018, Edgar Torres Gutierrez — who is studying sociology at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa — was arrested in Laguna Beach on suspicion of driving under the influence.
He was held by local police to be transferred into federal custody at the request of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after the agency was informed of the arrest. That day he was taken to an ICE facility in Los Angeles, interrogated and released the same day without immigration charges.
He later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of reckless driving.
“I still think about my experience with the Laguna Beach police,” Torres Gutierrez said in a statement. “When the officer told me I was not going to be able to go home, I became fearful. I also felt betrayed. I take responsibility for the actions that led to my arrest, but I didn’t deserve to be treated differently than other residents who put their trust in the police.”
As part of the settlement approved Jan. 16, Laguna Beach also agreed to show a training video on pertinent immigration law to all sworn officers and newly hired officers in its Police Department.
Additionally, the settlement allowed for Torres Gutierrez to file an official complaint with the Laguna Beach Police Department, which is expected to trigger an internal investigation into the circumstances of his detention and transfer, according to the UC Irvine School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, whose students helped represent Torres Gutierrez.
The settlement is in response to a claim filed with the city in November 2018 by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California on behalf of Torres Gutierrez.
“I’m really happy that [Torres Gutierrez] got an outcome that he wanted,” Evan Ormond, a third-year law student who worked on the case, said Wednesday. “It was a really long process ... for him, and the initial experience was traumatic for him.”
“We hope the complaint we filed today will result in some sort of additional changes or acknowledgment from the Laguna Beach Police Department,” Ormond said. "[Torres Gutierrez] wanted some institutional change to result from this.”
The Laguna Beach Police Department referred all requests for comment Wednesday to City Attorney Philip Kohn. City spokeswoman Cassie Walder said the city would have no comment.
The complaint filed Wednesday accuses the Police Department of violating Torres Gutierrez’s constitutional right against unlawful search and seizure and his right to due process, in addition to failing to notify him of ICE’s request for his detainment and violating the California Values Act, which prevents state and local law enforcement from using their resources on behalf of federal immigration enforcement agencies.
Torres Gutierrez said in an interview Wednesday that he felt it is important that his experience sends a message to other law enforcement agencies throughout the county and state. He added that it’s important for DACA recipients and others in the immigrant community to hear of his story so they might come forward with their own experiences.
“If you think your rights have been violated, it’s important to speak up and seek help,” he said. “There are organizations that will galvanize to help you and seek justice.”
Nguyen writes for Times Community News.