Bristol County’s Lawless Sheriff Will Answer to the Court

Immigrant Rights, Police Accountability, Racial Justice

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Lawless Sheriff Will Answer to the Court

Civil Rights Group Sues To Uncover Documents Regarding Bristol County’s Participation In Controversial Immigration Program

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice and Foley Hoag LLP filed a lawsuit against Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson to obtain public records regarding the Sheriff’s participation in a controversial U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program that entangles local police in federal immigration enforcement.  Sheriff Hodgson has refused to release any documents to the civil rights group in response to their January 2017 demand, in clear violation of the State’s public records law.

“Sheriff Hodgson appears to think he is above the law,” stated Sophia Hall, Staff Attorney at the Lawyers’ Committee and one of the attorneys on the case.  “But as President Trump has learned, that is why we have courts.  The public has a right to know how this Sheriff is attempting to enforce federal immigration law, how scarce taxpayer dollars are being squandered, and whether he is engaging in racial profiling of immigrant and minority communities.”

David Kluft, partner at Foley Hoag LLP, an international law firm that is co-counseling with the Lawyers’ Committee in this lawsuit pro bono, stated that “the issue of local involvement in federal immigration enforcement is of intense public interest.  Massachusetts’ public records law is clear that documents of the type that the Lawyers’ Committee has requested must be disclosed and cannot be shielded from public scrutiny.”  Kluft noted that the law generally requires document production in 10 days.

In January 2017, Sheriff Hodgson announced that his office would voluntarily join ICE’s Section 287(g) program, which deputizes local law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration law.  Critics of the program point out that enmeshing local law enforcement in federal immigration enforcement is a poor use of limited taxpayer funds, weakens public safety by deterring immigrant victims and witnesses from reporting crime, and can lead to racial profiling.

Immediately following Sheriff Hodgson’s January 2017 announcement, the Lawyers’ Committee filed a formal request for public documents related to his office’s participation in the program.  The records requested seek, among other things, to determine how much taxpayer money is being spent by Sheriff Hodgson on this program, who is being investigated and detained as a result, and where enforcement activities are occurring.  The Sheriff’s office acknowledged receipt of the request, but has refused to turn over any documents.

Ms. Hall added that “Sheriff Hodgson’s public statements about immigration enforcement highlight the need for civil rights advocates to monitor his activities closely.”  Sheriff Hodgson has recently offered to have his inmates help build President Trump’s promised Southern border wall, and has made vociferous demands for the arrest of elected officials in sanctuary communities.

The lawsuit, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights v. Hodgson et al., was filed in Suffolk Superior Court.

This lawsuit was featured in the New York Times, U.S. News and World Report, Boston Globe, Boston Herald, WBUR, CBS, Washington TimesMinneapolis Star TribuneSan Francisco Gate, Seattle Times, Charlotte Observer, Santa Cruz Sentinel, Providence Journal, Metro USA, South Coast Today, Cape Cod News, Taunton Daily Gazette,, Courthouse News, and Herald News. Associated Press coverage was syndicated to media outlets nationally. 

Within hours of filing this lawsuit, the sheriff apologized and agreed to comply with the rule of law. This development was featured in the New York Times, ABC, Washington Post, and Boston Herald.