SUNLAND PARK, NM - Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico filed a lawsuit in Third Judicial District Court against the City of Sunland Park, New Mexico, alleging that a Sunland Park police officer unlawfully detained and wrongfully arrested Oscar Gutiérrez Sánchez and his five year old son, both residents of Las Cruces, and subjected them to an illegal search using a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) drug detection dog. The search was conducted without warrant, consent, or probable cause, and revealed no contraband or evidence of illegal activity in the vehicle.
“The only explanation for this unlawful search and arrest is that the officer in question found our client suspicious merely because he was an immigrant and a person of color driving in the vicinity of the border,” said ACLU of New Mexico Legal Director Leon Howard. “Our client was simply trying to drive home with his young son, but ended up terrorized and detained on the side of the highway at night as border patrol drug dogs searched his vehicle.”
Officer Ismael Rodriguez of the Sunland Park Police Department initiated the stop on the night of March 13, 2018 on the pretext that Gutiérrez Sánchez was speeding. Mr. Gutiérrez Sánchez provided his license, registration, and insurance, whereupon Officer Rodriguez informed him that he would receive a warning for speeding. He then proceeded to question Gutiérrez Sánchez about whether he was using or transporting drugs in his truck, and asked for permission to search the vehicle. Mr. Gutiérrez Sánchez, who was not in possession of any contraband, declined to give permission for a search.
Without warrant, consent, or probable cause, Officer Rodriguez called Border Patrol to bring a drug detection dog to search the vehicle, and placed Gutiérrez Sánchez and his son under de facto arrest by forcing them to sit in their truck on the side of the highway for half an hour in the dark. When Border Patrol agents arrived with the drug dog, they proceeded to illegally search Gutiérrez Sánchez’s vehicle for approximately 15 minutes, finding nothing. Finally, after 45 minutes since the initial stop, Officer Rodriguez returned the ID and papers, and released Gutiérrez Sánchez with only a warning for speeding, leaving Gutiérrez Sánchez humiliated and terrorized by the experience.
“This incident illustrates why it is so dangerous for local law enforcement agencies to involve Border Patrol during routine traffic stops,” said Howard. “This kind of cross collaboration leads to pretextual stops and profiling, destroys community trust, and results in illegal searches and arrests like those suffered by our client.”
The ACLU of New Mexico’s lawsuit alleges that Officer Rodriguez’s suspicionless and warrantless search of Gutiérrez Sánchez’s vehicle violated Article II, Section 10 of the New Mexico State Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure, and New Mexico Statute 29-21-2 “Profiling Practices Prohibited”, which prevents law enforcement from discriminating on the basis of, among other categories, race, ethnicity, national origin, or language. The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages and any further relief deemed proper by the court.
ACLU of New Mexico attorneys Kristin Greer Love, Leon Howard, and Maria Martinez Sanchez and ACLU of New Mexico cooperating attorney Mark Fine represent the client.