A South Carolina family was detained four hours — and threatened with deportation — while driving to Mexico for a vacation.
Marcos and Stephanie Martinez were driving in Mississippi with their three children, his mother and sister, and a family friend June 3, 2017, when a Hancock County sheriff’s deputy pulled over their van, reported the Clarion Ledger.
Stephanie Martinez and her children are U.S. citizens, and her husband, who is originally from Mexico, has permanent status as a U.S. resident.
The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Mississippi Center for Justice filed a lawsuit Wednesday against five sheriff’s deputies and Hancock County that claims the family’s civil rights were violated through unlawful search and seizure and racial discrimination.
“This is a classic case of being arrested for ‘driving while Latino,’” said Rob McDuff, who is serving as MCJ’s attorney.
Deputy Milton Latschar pulled the family over on Interstate 10 and asked about their residency status, and questioned them about drugs after their paperwork checked out.
Their youngest child, a 10-year-old who is autistic and suffers from anxiety, began crying almost immediately during the traffic stop.
Marcos Martinez told the deputy he had no drugs in the van, but Latschar threatened to take away his permanent residency card if he did not reveal where he was hiding contraband.
The deputy searched the van and dumped out their suitcases, which damaged artwork intended as a gift to the children’s grandmother, and a second deputy, Abe Long, arrived to inspect the van’s undercarriage.
After two hours, Latschar ordered the family to follow him to the Hancock County Public Safety Complex, where the family was separated and detained while deputies continued searching the van.
Stephanie Martinez called 911 after her mother-in-law and one of her other children began crying, and Latscher let them out of the locked room.
The husband had called the family’s immigration lawyer from the van, and the attorney demanded their release.
Deputies finally let the family go after determining they had no drugs in the van, and Latschar finally returned their legal documents.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensation for the family’s pain and suffering, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees and court costs.