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Federal judge rules Mexican man was illegally detained in courthouse in Billings

Posted at 8:17 PM, May 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-17 14:49:01-04

BILLINGS- A federal judge ruled Thursday that a former Yellowstone County judge and deputy violated a witness’s constitutional rights when they arrested him in October 2017 based on immigration status.

U.S. District Judge Susan P. Watters ruled in favor of Miguel Angel Reynaga Hernandez in his suit against former Yellowstone County Justice of the Peace Pedro Hernandez, who ordered his arrest, and former Deputy Derek Skinner, who detained him at the Yellowstone County Courthouse.

In her ruling, Watters wrote that the judge and deputy violated Hernandez’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizure.

He was arrested after he provided an expired Mexican consulate ID and spent three months in federal custody in Washington state before charges were dropped, according to Last Best News and the Montana Free Press.

Hernandez was in court to testify to help his wife, Jana Reynaga, obtain a restraining order against another person. During another person’s testimony, he was sent out of the courtroom, and that witness told Judge Hernandez he and another man were illegal immigrants.

The judge, who retired in November 2017 after 40 years, told Skinner he had “two illegals outside” and to “get them,” according to court documents.

Watters wrote that neither Hernandez’s expired Mexican consulate ID nor his difficulty in speaking English gave probable cause for the arrest.

“In a country as diverse as the United States, it is common to encounter someone who struggles with English. The Fourth Amendment would be of little value if the police were able to arrest anyone with a foreign ID and difficulty with English,” she wrote.

The Seattle-based Northwest Immigrant Rights Project sued on Hernandez’s behalf.

Watters did not determine damages.

Q2 News was unable to contact Pedro Hernandez or Skinner, who has retired from the sheriff’s office, for comment.