Sergio Martinez Villaman was in this country legally -- with the papers, passport, and VISA to prove it.
But sheriff's deputies thought the Mexican national must be one of those dreaded "illegals." During a June 2008 crime sweep in Mesa, they pulled him over on one of the usual pretexts, for failing to use his turn signal. Even though Villaman produced his papers on the scene, they still detained him -- and that supposed poor use of the turn signal ended up costing the guy thirteen days in the hellhole that is the Maricopa County jail system.
Can you imagine if American visitors were treated like this in, say, Cabo San Lucas?
Villaman's tale was first detailed in a story by the Arizona Republic's Daniel Gonzalez last fall. We knew that wouldn't be the end of it -- and sure enough, court records show that Villaman filed a lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court earlier this summer alleging false imprisonment, civil rights violations, and a few other charges.
Villaman, 33, is suing Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the Mariciopa County Sheriff's Office, and the deputy who made the arrest, Jeremy Templeton.
Attorneys J. Scott Halvorsen and Ben Miranda charge in the lawsuit that Arpaio "failed to develop criteria to avoid abuse of the unchecked discretion which he has afforded MCSO personnel; and he has established, implemented and encouraged illegal and unconstitutional policies and practices that have caused the unlawful treatment" experienced by Villaman.
As his attorneys note, Villaman submitted a form after more than a week in jail asking if any ICE holds had been placed on him. Jail personnel responded that there were none.
Amazingly, they didn't get around to releasing him from jail for another three days after that. Adding insult to injury, they then sent him a notice saying his automobile was "abandoned" and that "he must pay a fee to recover it."
The suit says Villaman was "permanently deprived of his vehicle," which sounds like he never did get it back. We sure do know how to treat visitors in Maricopa County!
And the sad thing is, we're actually now stuck paying the county's lawyer to defend what ought to be indefensible. Just another day in the Valley, right?