Jaime Moreno-Gutierrez and Roberto Moreno-Gutierrez just wanted to reduce their carbon footprint. Or maybe they just wanted to save on gas costs. Either way, they sold their gas-guzzling 2004 GMC Envoy and set off from their home in Killeen on March 31, 2011, and headed for Plano, where a dealership was offering a used 2007 Nissan Maxima hybrid for $14,000.
But a trip that should have taken less than a day turned into a month-long ordeal after a traffic stop outside Hillsboro, about halfway between Waco and Dallas. There, according to a lawsuit they filed last week in federal court, they were pulled over by a state trooper for no reason, thrown in the Hill County Detention Center, and kept them there without cause for 39 days.
The trooper who made the arrest, Carl Clary, seemed to suspect the men of transporting drugs. That they were carrying $14,000 in cash and checks was no doubt suspicious, but they swore repeatedly, though there was no translator present to interpret their pleas into English, that they were simply on their way to buy a car.
The suit says that Clary ignored this and had his drug dog give their car a thorough going over. Then, after the canine found nothing, he "tore apart the vehicle looking for money or drugs that did not exist."
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Their lawsuit doesn't say it in so many words, but both the Moreno-Gutierrezes seem to be in the country illegally. But the charge on which they were booked into jail was listed as money laundering, according to jail records obtained by the men's attorney. Even if they are undocumented immigrants, the men claim that both the Texas Department of Public Safety and Hill County authorities violated basic due process protections.
To begin with, they were never told they were under arrest and never read their Miranda rights. They were simply told by Clary that they would be interviewed where it was quiet. Also, according to the lawsuit, no probable cause affidavit was ever filed, they were never brought before a magistrate and they never had a bond hearing, all requirements for holding someone in jail. State law requires authorities to release those they arrest within 72 hours if a magistrate does not find probable cause for their detention. And ICE's detention holds on non-citizens last for 48 hours, according to suit.
Needless to say, those time periods had been well exceeded by May 9, when the men were released on an immigration bond.
The lawsuit claims that Hill County routinely holds illegal immigrants for longer than allowed by law. In this case at least, it says the men suffered a loss of their constitutional rights and liberty, and that this was intentionally inflicted. They're asking for unspecified damages.