Florida Keys

Sheriff says the near deportation of an American citizen wasn’t his fault

Keys sheriff tried to deport a U.S. citizen to Jamaica, lawsuit says

A Key West man says he was almost deported to Jamaica even though he is a U.S. Citizen, born and bred in Philadelphia. The American Civil Liberties Union says the case shows a pattern at the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.
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A Key West man says he was almost deported to Jamaica even though he is a U.S. Citizen, born and bred in Philadelphia. The American Civil Liberties Union says the case shows a pattern at the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.

Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay defended his agency Tuesday over a lawsuit that claims he violated a man’s rights by holding him for deportation even though he is an American citizen.

The mistake that almost sent Philadelphia-born Peter Sean Brown to Jamaica, Ramsay said, was made by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and not at the local level.

“This was an unfortunate case of mistaken identity by ICE regarding a subject who was initially in state custody for violating probation for a felony crime of violence against a police officer,” Ramsay said in a one-page statement.

“I immediately took action when notified of this matter months ago,” he said. “I ordered Sheriff’s Office detention deputies to immediately notify ICE of a detainee’s claims of citizenship and to follow up with those claims.”

Brown, 50, spent three weeks locked up at the Stock Island Detention Center after violating his probation on a felony conviction by testing positive for marijuana. He didn’t get a court date on that violation until April 26 when a county judge ordered him released.

Brown was arrested April 5 for the probation violation. Once his fingerprints were shipped to the FBI — which sent them to ICE as it does all inmate fingerprints — ICE sent Ramsay’s office a federal judge’s final order of deportation for Brown.

“When an inmate is held under an ICE matter, I, as sheriff, do not have the legal authority to release that person,” Ramsay said.

Brown was held for about 12 hours past the local judge’s release order because of the ICE form saying he was on his way to Jamaica. He was released after being taken to a the Krome detention center in Miami-Dade.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other agencies are suing Ramsay over the mistake.

Ramsay’s office on Monday, when the lawsuit was filed, declined to comment on the allegations.

On Tuesday. the sheriff’s office declined to answer questions Tuesday, and just referred to Ramsey’s official statement.

“I can’t respond as much as I would like on this case given the pending litigation. ... Local law enforcement throughout this country has been caught in the middle of a political argument regarding immigration.”

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Gwen Filosa covers Key West and the Lower Florida Keys for FLKeysNews.com and the Miami Herald and lives in Key West. She was part of the staff at the New Orleans Times-Picayune that in 2005 won two Pulitzer Prizes for coverage of Hurricane Katrina. She graduated from Indiana University.

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