By Daniel Langhorne | LB Indy
Laguna Beach will pay nearly $19,000 to settle the complaint of an Orange Coast College student with Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals status who was illegally handed off to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after being arrested by Laguna Beach police on suspicion of driving under the influence in June 2018, according to an agreement.
The settlement with Edgar Eduardo Torres Gutierrez, 29, of Laguna Beach, was in response to a claim filed on Gutierrez’s behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California. The UC Irvine School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic is co-counsel in the case, according to a press release.
“The Laguna Beach Police officers’ actions throughout this incident were not only contrary to Laguna Beach Police Department’s own internal policies and unlawful under California law, but they also violated my rights and harmed the trust that I had in the police department of the city where I reside,” Gutierrez wrote in a complaint to the department.
Laguna Beach Police Sgt. Jim Cota referred a request for comment to the City Attorney’s office. City Attorney Phil Kohn declined to comment for this story Wednesday.
One of the settlement’s conditions is a requirement for all Laguna Beach sworn officers and newly-hired officers to watch a training video at least once within the next two years.
“We don’t seek out undocumented people to turn over to ICE,” Councilmember Toni Iseman said. “We never have been a town that chooses to pursue undocumented [people.] If Laguna Beach pursued undocumented people we would be closing all of our hotels and restaurants.”
Councilmember Peter Blake said the settlement exemplifies “the sad state of the state of California and our legal system.”
“So somehow this person drives under the influence, slams into a parked tow truck, gets arrested, pleads guilty to a lesser charge and because of a procedural error made by our police department, ends up suing and winning $18,750 from the residents of Laguna Beach,” Blake said. “Why aren’t we talking about how fortunate we all were that he didn’t injure or kill someone while driving recklessly? I back our cops and their actions 100 percent.”
On June 3, 2018, at about 1:30 a.m., Gutierrez was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence by Laguna Beach officer Matthew Meyer and was booked into the Laguna Beach City Jail. At the City Jail, Laguna Beach officers asked him a few questions before placing him in a cell without offering a phone call, according to his complaint.
After waking up in his cell later that morning, guards repeatedly checked on him but did nothing to gauge his sobriety. After asking multiple times when he’d be released, an officer said that agents were coming. About an hour and half later, he was put in a room with Homeland Security agents, the complaint states.
“The Laguna Beach Police officers then uncuffed me so that I could be taken into ICE custody,” Gutierrez wrote. The ICE agents chained me up and put me into a van. I recall that some Laguna Beach Police officers snickered as I left.”
Agents transported Gutierrez to an ICE facility in Los Angeles, where he was interrogated before being released at about 11 p.m. on June 3, 2018.
Gutierrez claims his transfer to ICE agents violated the California Values Act, which prohibits California police agencies from cooperating or assisting federal immigration enforcement, and the Laguna Beach Police Department’s internal policy.
“We are so happy that Edgar will be able to get some closure on this chapter of his life,” Annie Lai, co-director of the UCI Immigrant Rights Clinic said in a prepared statement. “The Laguna Beach police should not have been helping ICE deport DACA recipients and, because Edgar came forward, now other residents hopefully won’t have to experience what he did.”