CO Supreme Court denies El Paso sheriff’s appeal in ICE detainer case

The Colorado Supreme Court has denied the El Paso County Sheriff’s appeal of an order demanding that he stop detaining inmates for immigration authorities.

Sheriff Bill Elder recently was the subject of a class action lawsuit, filed by the ACLU in February, alleging that he was holding arrestees in his custody beyond their scheduled release dates at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

In March, after state judge Eric Bentley ruled that Elder’s agreement with federal immigration authorities violates state law, Elder vowed to fight the injunction, arguing that, “We do not have a sanctuary county.”

On March 23, Elder filed an appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court. The Court issued a ruling on Thursday denying that appeal.

The ACLU suit challenged a new arrangement Elder entered into with ICE in which the federal agency signs a contract with a local jail, agreeing to pay a daily rate in exchange for the jail housing federal detainees. When ICE is interested in a prisoner, the suit said, officials fax or email three forms (none of which are signed by a judge) to the jail. Then, in the eyes of the sheriff, the detainee becomes a federal prisoner in ICE custody.

But, “when individuals have posted bond or resolved their criminal case, Colorado law requires that Sheriff Elder release them,” said Mark Silverstein, the ACLU of Colorado’s legal director, in February.

John Krieger, spokesman for the ACLU of Colorado, said in a statement that his group believes the El Paso County Sheriff’s policies exceeded his authority under Colorado law “and that using overburdened local resources for federal immigration enforcement does nothing to promote public safety.” Colorado Sheriffs, he said, “swear an oath to the Constitution, not to ICE.”

Elder, who has been sheriff for the past three years, faces a June primary challenge from Mike Angley, a retired Air Force colonel. In his appeal, Elder asked Colorado’s highest court to weigh in on Judge Bentley’s order “and clarify that sheriffs do have the authority to hold ICE detainees for the limited time period of up to 48 hours after state law authority to hold the inmate has expired, based upon receipt of an ICE Immigration Detainer and Administrative Warrant.”

He said he worries about a loss of federal funding for his sheriff’s office if he doesn’t cooperate with immigration officials. He said he wanted the Colorado Supreme Court to hear his appeal because, according to language in his petition, “the law on a local sheriff’s authority to hold ICE detainees is unsettled.”

In response to Thursday’s order, the ACLU’s Mark Silverstein said, “Judge Bentley ruled that when jail prisoners post bond, complete their sentence, or otherwise resolve their criminal case, Colorado law requires the sheriff to release them.  Accordingly, the court ruled that Sheriff Elder cannot hold prisoners past their release dates for the convenience of federal immigration authorities.  We believe Judge Bentley got it right, and the Supreme Court didn’t disagree.”

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication.

Corey Hutchins contributed to this story.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons