Lawsuit claims Jamaican detained for being 'born outside US'

OCALA, Florida — Neville Brooks, a Jamaican man living in Florida, filed a federal lawsuit on Thursday against a sheriff and his deputies, claiming he was illegally detained solely because he was born in Jamaica.

Brooks, who is lawfully a US resident, was detained in central Florida in August 2020.

According to the suit against Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods and his deputies, a federal immigration officer told multiple county employees that Brookes wasn't subject to any immigration detention request.

However, the 59-year-old was detained until the following day. Five days later, he tested positive for COVID-19, the lawsuit claims.

It further accuses the sheriff's office of having a policy of detaining people merely because they were born outside the US, and that Brooks' constitutional rights were violated and state law against false imprisonment also was violated.

Brooks was originally arrested on a charge of misdemeanour battery which was later dismissed. His bail was set at US$100 amid concern that he could be exposed to COVID-19 in jail, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit claims that family members posted his bail but he was not released as, according to authorities, he was being held by federal immigration agents.

The lawsuit says US Immigration and Customs Enforcement never issued a detainer, administrative warrant, or any other requests to hold Brooks.

Brooks is seeking undisclosed financial damages and for an order barring the sheriff's office from detaining people for immigration enforcement merely because they are born outside the US.

Noting that his office hadn't yet been served with the lawsuit so he could not comment on it, Sgt Paul Bloom in an email said the sheriff's office is required by Florida law to use its “best efforts to support the enforcement of federal immigration law".

He added that it will continue to do that.

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