(EL PASO COUNTY, Colo.) — The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office (EPSO) paid $25,000 to a man for failing to release him after his daughter posted bail on pending misdemeanor charges following a formally entered judgment by the court on Thursday, March 16, per the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The judgment comes after five years of litigation that included a precedent-setting decision by the Colorado Supreme Court and two stops at the Court of Appeals, according to ACLU.
“The court has now entered a formal court finding of legal liability. After a five-year wait for compensation for his illegal imprisonment, our client was happy to resolve this lawsuit to avoid what could have been a delay of several additional years of litigation,” stated Mark Silverstein, ACLU of Colorado Legal Director.
Saul Cisneros was the lead plaintiff in the ACLU of Colorado’s state-court class action lawsuit in 2018 that ended former EPSO Sheriff Bill Elder’s policy of refusing to release prisoners who had posted bail or resolved their criminal charges if federal immigration authorities suspected immigration violations, according to ACLU.
El Paso County district court Judge Eric Bentley ruled Sheriff Elder’s practice of keeping pretrial detainees imprisoned based on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) documents, which are not signed by a judge, in violation of three provisions of the Colorado Constitution.
2019’s passage of HB 19-1124 in the Colorado Legislature codified Judge Bentley’s ruling into a statute that prohibits all Colorado law enforcement from arresting or detaining persons on the basis of ICE documents.
In a separate companion case, ACLU lawyers sought compensation for Cisneros, alleging false imprisonment for his illegal confinement. Sheriff Elder moved to dismiss, arguing that the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act granted him immunity from suit.
The district court ruled for Cisneros while the Court of Appeals ruled for Sheriff Elder. In a unanimous decision, the Colorado Supreme Court rejected Sheriff Elder’s argument.
After one more stop at the Court of Appeals, which rejected Sheriff Elder’s remaining immunity argument, the case seeking compensation for false imprisonment was cleared to proceed on the merits, stated ACLU.
Sheriff Elder removed the case to federal court based on Cisneros’s additional claim for relief under federal law. The El Paso County Attorney then made a formal “offer of judgment” for $25,000, which Cisneros accepted. The court formally entered judgment for Cisneros on March 16, 2023.
“Unlike out-of-court settlements in which the defendant admits no liability, an offer of judgment allows a formal court judgment to enter against Sheriff Elder, in his official capacity as Sheriff of El Paso County,” said Silverstein.
In a statement sent to FOX21, EPSO said, “we do not provide comment on settlement from litigation.”