ACLU sues city of Palmer over alleged unlawful immigrant arrest

A still from footage released by the ACLU of Alaska showing Andres Alexander Caceda-Mantilla during a 2017 incident, leading to what the group alleges was an unlawful arrest (Photo: ACLU of Alaska)

A civil rights group is suing an Alaska police department over what it says was the unlawful arrest and detention of an immigrant last summer.

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On Thursday, the Alaska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint in state court on behalf of Palmer resident Andres Alexander Caceda-Mantilla. Court documents detail an incident at Klondike Mike’s Saloon last August, when Caceda-Mantilla was badly beaten by three individuals after rushing to the defense of a bartender.

In an eight-minute video released by the ACLU that includes police body-camera footage, members of the Palmer Police Department show up in response to the brawl and handcuff the assailants. But not long after Caceda-Mantilla tells them he is from Peru and has only a passport as documentation, they detain him.

The court filing says that Detective Kristi Muilenberg told a police dispatcher to call Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and eventually handcuffed Caceda-Mantilla, placing him in the back of a police car as he continued bleeding from a head wound that eventually required eight stitches.

“Even if you didn’t commit a crime, it’s something that the department of Homeland Security wants,” Muilenberg can be heard saying in the footage. “It’s a federal thing.”

At the heart of the ACLU complaint is whether or not it was lawful for Caceda-Mantilla to be put under arrest and detained for four days by Palmer police when there was no evidence he’d committed a criminal offense.

As it is laid out under Alaska’s legal code, state and local police are not in charge of enforcing immigration violations, according to ACLU communications director Casey Reynolds.

“Police officers do not have legal authority to arrest any one just for being undocumented, being undocumented is not a crime, it’s a civil violation,” Reynolds said by phone Thursday. “Under Alaska law, in order for police to arrest anyone they have to have belief that a crime has occurred. So it was an unlawful arrest.”

Caceda-Mantilla is married to a U.S. citizen, though had not started filing for a visa or green card at the time of the incident. He was eventually released by ICE.

According to the ACLU, all three of the men who assaulted Caceda-Mantilla were released by officers at the scene.

The suit seeks damages, saying Caceda-Mantilla experienced psychological harm, along with physical injuries that were made worse as a result of being handcuffed and detained.

The lawsuit names the City of Palmer as a defendant along with the four individual members of the police department involved in the incident: Kristi Muilenberg, Jamie Hammons, Daniel Potter and Hilary Schwaderer.

ACLU’s Reynolds said the move was meant to send a message to law enforcement across the state.

“At the end of the day it’s the individual police officers who make the decision whether to take somebody into custody or not, so we’re holding the people who actually committed the unlawful arrest accountable,” Reynolds said.

The city of Palmer has not yet responded to the complaint. Attorney Michael Gatti represents the city of Palmer and said Thursday he was still reviewing the court documents.

Zachariah Hughes reports on city & state politics, arts & culture, drugs, and military affairs in Anchorage and South Central Alaska.

@ZachHughesAK About Zachariah

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