Immigration Law

Federal appeals court tosses injured lawyer's Fourth Amendment claim against ICE agent

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An agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has qualified immunity from a Fourth Amendment claim in a lawsuit filed by an injured lawyer, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at St. Louis ruled June 16 that the ICE law enforcement officer, Ronnet Sasse, did not violate a right that was clearly established at the time of the June 2018 incident.

The lawyer, Andrea Martinez, had claimed that she broke her foot and suffered a concussion when Sasse and another ICE officer pushed her to the ground to prevent her from accompanying her client, a 3-year-old child, into an ICE facility.

The child was to be reunited with his mother before they were deported to Honduras. A Netflix film crew was there filming the incident for a documentary.

The 8th Circuit said it was not clearly established “that Sasse’s alleged push was a seizure under the Fourth Amendment.” As a result, Martinez’s Fourth Amendment claim must be dismissed, the appeals court said in an opinion by Judge Steven M. Colloton.

Sasse had told Martinez that the mother’s domestic partner should accompany the child into the facility, according Martinez’s lawsuit. Martinez said the boy and the domestic partner preferred to remain outside. A different agent grabbed the domestic partner’s arm and began to walk the man and the boy into the facility. Martinez tried to enter, as well, but she was blocked and pushed to the ground, she alleged.

The domestic partner was also in the United States illegally and was awaiting deportation proceedings after the incident, according to June 2018 coverage.

Other defendants in Martinez’s suit are the second ICE officer and the United States.

One of Martinez’s attorneys, J. Emmet Logan, told KCUR that Martinez’s claims against the United States for Sasse’s actions are not affected by the 8th Circuit decision.

“We will review the decision with Ms. Martinez and decide what steps to take in response,” Logan told KCUR.

Claims against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act include assault and battery, false imprisonment, false arrest and negligent infliction of emotional distress, according to a March 2021 opinion by the lower court judge, Judge Fernando J. Gaitan Jr.

The case is Martinez v. Sasse.

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