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No ticket from Corona traffic stop; driver was deported. ACLU wants city to pay $1 million

Daniel Valenzuela had just dropped his children off at school on the last day of January when a Corona police officer pulled him over for allegedly speeding.

The officer didn’t ticket or arrest him.

Instead, he and another officer began asking about Valenzuela’s immigration status and called U.S. Customs and Border Protection, where officials told them that the 34-year-old had overstayed his visa by a couple of weeks.

The border agents asked the police officers to detain Valenzuela so they could pick him up. About an hour after the traffic stop, Valenzuela was taken into immigration custody and eventually was deported.

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The incident, much of which is described in a Corona police report written by the officer who stopped Valenzuela, is now the subject of a $1-million claim for damages against the city of Corona, which was filed Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union.

By investigating Valenzuela’s immigration status and then turning him over to immigration authorities, police violated SB54, the so-called “sanctuary state” law, which says local police cannot “interrogate, detain, detect, or arrest persons for immigration enforcement purposes,” and prohibits police from transferring people to immigration authorities without a judicial warrant or probable cause determination, said Eva Bitran, an attorney with the ACLU of Southern California.

The officers also violated Valenzuela’s constitutional rights against false imprisonment and unreasonable search and seizure, the ACLU says.

In a statement, Corona Police Chief George Johnstone called what happened to Valenzuela an “isolated incident.”

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Johnstone said he couldn’t provide detailed information because of the ACLU claim and because the case involved personnel matters, but he said, after the incident with Valenzuela, officers were briefed on state law and received additional training.

The department also launched an internal investigation, and he has met with the ACLU and other advocacy groups, Johnstone said.

“The Corona Police Department is committed to providing the highest quality service to all members of our community,” he said. “I remain committed to providing fair and impartial policing to all members of our community and maintaining dialogue with the ACLU and advocacy groups.”

Valenzuela’s wife said she and the couple’s three daughters were struggling now that her husband was gone. She declined to give her name, saying she worried that going public could harm her family. Their youngest daughter, who is 12, has taken the separation particularly hard, she said.

Valenzuela now lives with his parents in Sinaloa, she said.

paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

For more Inland Empire news follow me @palomaesquivel


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