Saturday, October 20, 2012

British film director sues after being arrested and held in U.S. jail 'for three months without trial or chance to post bail'

British film director Duncan Roy is suing the Los Angeles County Sheriff after, he claims, he became 'lost' in the prison system for three months - with no option to post bail and no legal recourse.

The director was caught in what the LA Times called a 'Kafka-esque corner of America's immigration war', after his name was flagged up by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Despite having the means to post a £35,000 bail on an extortion charge, the director, whose best-known film is a semi-autobiographical account, 'AKA', instead became trapped in a vicious circle.

The County Sheriff would not accept bail until custom officers had cleared his records - but somehow Roy was lost in the system and a 'ICE hold', which normally lasts 48 hours, was never lifted.

Roy, who is recovering from testicular cancer, said he suffered a nervous breakdown during his 89 days inside. Four other plaintiffs are making similar claims against the department, in a lawsuit being filed by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) today.

According to the LA Times, Roy was arrested on November 15 in Malibu on an extortion charge.

He was in the country legally - but was identified as a suspected legal immigrant when his fingerprints were put through the system.

When this occurs, all bail possibilities are held - which the ACLU breaks a 'fundamental principle' of justice.

But for Roy, it was worse, for while a hold should be a straightforward procedure, it turned into a three-month nightmare from which there was 'no escape',

It is claimed there are thousands of people who get trapped in similar situations - although the ACLU says in its suit that the holds system may itself have been put on hold in the last week.

Roy's arrest followed issues with the foundations of his L.A. property, after the director says he received a late-night phonecall saying his house foundations were faulty, reducing the property's value.

Further incidents led to Roy calling his ex-boyfriend and saying, as Roy tells the LA Times: 'I said: "You've conned me out of $500,000, and why don't you take the house back? I'll give you the house back for $500,000 - or I could just blog about what you've done to me.' I threatened to blog about him.'

The next day, Roy was called to the Sheriff's Department for a meeting - and was arrested for extortion.

While he believed his arrest was an over-reaction, instead he found himself on a 'never-ending Möbius strip', spending the first night in cell with no blanket while his lawyers scrambled to release him.

But Roy's bondsman, Morris DeMayo, said: 'The minute he got arrested, it was one weird incident after another. The jailer basically said, "We have an ICE hold, so we can't accept the bond." There was just a runaround.'

Two days later at an arraignment, the judge set bail at $35,000 but was told about the ICE hold, and Roy was remanded to county custody.

This was Los Angeles County's Men's Central Jail - which Roy said was 'theatrically unpleasant. 'You're being shouted and screamed at. You're not allowed to look anybody in the eye - you have to look at the floors at all times. It was an understandably barbaric situation.

There he claims he was left for long periods without food, and was kept incarcerated except for a once-weekly trip to a roof.

The rest of the time he spent in a small cell, awaiting news that never came, trapped in what the ACLU calls a 'legal dead zone' between the ICE and the Sheriff's office.

Jenny Pasquarella, of the ACLU of Southern California, said: 'A lot of time, when you talk to immigration about a person who is in custody, they say, "We can't do anything about it because the person's not in our custody. Talk to the Sheriff.". 'Then you talk to the Sheriff and they say, "We can't do anything about it. We didn't place the hold." 'They keep pointing fingers at each other.'

Roy, who says he is innocent of the charges, even debated pleading guilty after three months - during which Christmas and New Year passed him by.

Finally, an fellow prisoner told Roy about the Esperanza Immigrants Rights Project, a Catholic-based charity. He was able to make contact and: 'This woman literally turns up at the dorm, Susanne Griffin. And she's wearing a bright pink suit. 'She said: "My boss doesn't usually take individual cases, but I think we can take yours."

'They took my passport information to prove that I was here legally.' And 24 hours later he was free - because Griffin knew 'exactly who to call at ICE'. When she explained the situation, the hold was lifted.

ICE told L.A. Weekly: 'Because he had no prior criminal convictions and did not otherwise fall into ICE's enforcement priorities, the agency rescinded the immigration detainer and Mr. Roy did not come into ICE custody.'

Roy said: 'You are literally spat out of the jail. Then they pull you through a door, and you're outside. And it's the weirdest feeling. I'm on the street at 3 o'clock in the morning, waiting for the bail guy who's going to take me home.'

The LA Times said that Roy 'still seems very much in shock, speaking in a calm, almost disembodied voice that suggests the toll has not sunk in'.

He said: 'I still keep an eye on the roads in case a police car comes. I'm terrified they're going to take me back there.'

Ironically, the whole drama started when Roy prepared to sell his house for a move to Berlin. But, due to the charges, he now cannot leave America. But at least this time, his prison is a whole country and not a small Kafka cell.

Original report here

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