DENVER – After five years of litigation that included a precedent-setting decision by the Colorado Supreme Court and two stops at the Court of Appeals, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office has finally compensated Saul Cisneros for illegally failing to release him after his daughter posted bail on his pending misdemeanor charges.
Cisneros was the lead plaintiff in the ACLU of Colorado’s successful state-court class action lawsuit in 2018 that ended former Sheriff Bill Elder’s policy of refusing to release prisoners who had posted bail or resolved their criminal charges if federal immigration authorities suspected immigration violations. El Paso County district court Judge Eric Bentley ruled that Elder’s practice of keeping pretrial detainees imprisoned based on ICE documents, which are not signed by a judge, violated three provisions of the Colorado Constitution. In 2019, with the passage of HB 19-1124 the Colorado Legislature codified Judge Bentley’s ruling into a statute that prohibits all Colorado law enforcement officers from arresting or detaining persons on the basis of ICE documents.
In a separate, companion case, ACLU lawyers sought compensation for Mr. Cisneros, alleging false imprisonment for his illegal confinement. Sheriff Elder moved to dismiss, arguing that the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act granted him immunity from suit. The district court ruled for Mr. Cisneros; the Court of Appeals ruled for Elder; and in a unanimous decision, the Colorado Supreme Court rejected Elder’s argument. After one more stop at the Court of Appeals, which rejected Elder’s remaining immunity argument, the case seeking compensation for false imprisonment was cleared to proceed on the merits.
Sheriff Elder removed the case to federal court based on Mr. Cisneros’s additional claim for relief under federal law. The El Paso County Attorney then made a formal “offer of judgment” for $25,000, which Mr. Cisneros accepted. The court formally entered judgment for Mr. Cisneros on March 16, 2023.
“Unlike out-of-court settlements in which the defendant admits no liability, an offer of judgment allows a formal court judgment to enter against Sheriff Elder, in his official capacity as Sheriff of El Paso County,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU of Colorado Legal Director. “The court has now entered a formal court finding of legal liability. After a five-year wait for compensation for his illegal imprisonment, our client was happy to resolve this lawsuit to avoid what could have been a delay of several additional years of litigation.”
ACLU of Colorado Cooperating Attorney Steve Masciocchi of Holland & Hart led the ACLU litigation team in both legal actions on behalf of Mr. Cisneros.