In a scathing opinion, Judge Jack B. Weinstein, Senior Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, awarded a wrongfully detained American citizen $82,500 in damages for false arrest and false imprisonment at the hands of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Davino Watson was born in Kingston, Jamaica November 17, 1984. Both of his parents were Jamaican citizens, but after living in America for several years, his father became an American citizen. Watson was 17-years-old at the time, and pursuant to immigration law, he became an American citizen at the same time as his father.
After spending several years in New York State Prison for robbery and drug convictions, Watson was set to be released. Unfortunately for him, the crack ICE deportation team stepped in, decided that he was not an American citizen, and initiated deportation proceedings against him. Based on the files of two Jamaican citizens who were not Watson’s parents, ICE detained Watson for a total of 1,273 days before finally realizing that he was an American.
Watson was transferred from New York to Louisiana and eventually to Alabama during his three-and-a-half years of detention. He was eventually released in Alabama, “put out on the street, a stranger in a small town, with no money.” Watson then filed suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act, arguing that his detention was illegal and the result of governmental negligence.
Judge Weinstein agreed. Describing the government’s conduct variously as negligent, careless, unreasonable and unjust, Judge Weinstein declared the situation a “legal disaster.” In addition to awarding Watson damages, the Judge wrote that the government owed him an apology.
“Plaintiff was badly treated by government employees,” wrote Judge Weinstein. “He deserves a letter of apology from the United States in addition to damages. But this court is not empowered to order this courtesy.”
Due to changes in the state of immigration law during the pendency of Watson’s detention, the court was only able to award him damages for 27 of the 1,273 days of his improper incarceration. The award included $2,000 per day for loss of liberty, $500 per day for emotional injury, and $15,000 for false arrest. Had the change in law not created some minimal reason for detaining Watson, he would have been awarded approximately $600,000 more.
Case: Watson v. United States, United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Case No. 14-CV-6459 (Feb. 25, 2016).
Originally published in Criminal Legal News on December 7, 2017.