Civil Rights Complaint Filed Against ICE Officers Who Detained Man after Eavesdropping on Attorney-Client Discussion at State Courthouse

Apr 3, 2018
3:46 pm

On Tuesday, Latino Rebels received the following media release from the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project:

Vancouver, WA – Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) filed a civil rights complaint today on behalf of a man who was detained earlier this year by officers from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after one of the officers eavesdropped on a conversation the man had with his attorney. NWIRP has also filed a motion before an immigration judge to dismiss the deportation case that ensued from this blatant violation of attorney-client privilege.

The complaint filed today with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties stems from the arrest and detention of Jorge Luis Acebal-Coria, a long-time resident of Vancouver, Washington. On January 24, 2018, Mr. Acebal-Coria went to the Clark County courthouse in Vancouver to respond to a misdemeanor criminal charge. Unbeknownst to Mr. Acebal-Coria, ICE officers were present in the courthouse.

When Mr. Acebal-Coria stepped out of a courtroom and into the hallway to speak to his criminal defense attorney, an ICE officer in plain clothes, Jordan Vossler, eavesdropped on the conversation. At the end of the hearing, the case was continued. Mr. Acebal-Coria left the courthouse and shortly thereafter was arrested by ICE officers, including Officer Vossler. During the arrest, Officer Vossler told Mr. Acebal-Coria: “I heard you talking, you’re illegal.”

Officer Vossler filed a report in which he relied on information obtained by surreptitiously eavesdropping on the conversation between Mr. Acebal-Coria and his attorney in making a case for deportation against Mr. Acebal-Coria. The report claims that officer Vossler was listening in on a conversation between Mr. Acebal-Coria and “court staff” but it was actually between him and his criminal defense attorney. The relevant section of the report is copied below.

After Mr. Acebal-Coria’s arrest, he was taken to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. About a week after his arrest, Mr. Acebal-Coria suffered a stroke that led to his being hospitalized. Despite his serious medical condition, Mr. Acebal-Coria remains detained at NWDC pending deportation hearings against him. Mr. Acebal-Coria has been separated from his three children for over two months.

“The United States Supreme Court has pointed out that the attorney-client privilege ‘is one of the oldest recognized privileges for confidential communications,'” said Tim Warden-Hertz, directing attorney of NWIRP’s Tacoma office, which is representing Mr. Acebal-Coria. “It is a fundamental principle of our constitution that clients should be able to communicate about their case with their attorneys without government intrusion.”

“Detention has been stressful on many levels-I look out the window and feel that my life is passing me by,” said Mr. Acebal-Coria. “This case is important so that other people are aware of this conduct by ICE officers and know that they can fight back. It’s already intimidating to go to a courthouse; knowing that ICE was eavesdropping on my conversation with my lawyer makes me even more scared to go to court in the future.”

In addition to the civil rights complaint filed today, NWIRP has also filed a motion with the Immigration Court in Tacoma, Washington for it to dismiss the deportation case currently pending against Mr. Acebal-Coria in light of the constitutional and statutory violations that led to his arrest. Mr. Acebal-Coria’s next immigration court hearing is scheduled for Friday, April 6th.

***

Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) is a nationally-recognized legal services organization founded in 1984.  Each year, NWIRP provides direct legal assistance in immigration matters to over 20,000 low-income people from over 135 countries, speaking over 60 different languages and dialects.  NWIRP also strives to achieve systemic change to policies and practices affecting immigrants through impact litigation, public policy work, and community education.  NWIRP serves the community from four offices in Washington State in Seattle, Granger, Tacoma, and Wenatchee.
email