Latino ‘Exodus’ Claims Advance Toward Trial

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     NASHVILLE (CN) – Federal agents must face a trial on an allegedly coordinated immigration raid that created a “mass exodus” of Latinos from an apartment complex, a federal judge ruled.
     Fifteen U.S. citizens, all but one of whom are Latino, are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and Metropolitan Nashville police officers stemming from an Oct. 20, 2010, raid on the Clairmont Apartments in Nashville.
     When the Clairmont was sold in bankruptcy proceedings earlier that year, the new management company allegedly took over with the intention of driving out the complex’s largely Latino population.
     The residents said the raid involved ICE agents forcing their way into apartment units without permission and breaking into bedrooms. One agent allegedly yelled, “We have four here! Four Mexican sons of bitches!”
     Some were forced out of their apartment with guns to their heads, according to the complaint.
     “Plaintiff Sanchez Villalobos asked one of the [federal] agents if ICE had a warrant,” the complaint states. “The agent said something to the effect of ‘we don’t need a warrant, we’re ICE.’ The agent also gestured to his genitals and said something like ‘the warrant is coming out of my balls.'”
     ICE agents found nothing illegal in the apartments they raided, and no criminal charges were filed, the plaintiffs claimed. Most residents were allegedly charged with immigration violations.
     The plaintiffs seek punitive damages for violations of their Fourth, Fifth and 14th Amendment rights.
     U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell refused to grant the federal defendants – a group of 12 special agents, deportation officers and supervisors – summary judgment Thursday in the 2011 action.
     “When the material facts are disputed as to what exactly happened, what the officers knew or did not know, what the officers did or did not do, the court cannot determine whether it would have been clear to a reasonable officer in the agents’ position that their conduct was unlawful in the situation they confronted,” Campbell wrote. “The bottom line is that a jury will have to determine whether the facts support a finding of violation of constitutional rights.”
     Earlier, Campbell had said that “the court cannot judge credibility, choose certain facts but not others, or decide those facts on a motion for summary judgment.”
     Trial is scheduled for Dec. 2.