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Federal judge hears arguments in Frederick race bias case

An attorney for Frederick County says there’s no evidence that two deputy sheriffs discriminated against a Salvadoran woman during a 2008 encounter that led to her arrest on an immigration warrant.

The attorney made the remarks Tuesday while arguing for the woman’s federal lawsuit to be decided without a trial.

Roxana Orellana Santos claimed she was targeted because she looked Hispanic when deputies Jeffrey Openshaw and Kevin Lynch stopped to talk to her behind the market where she worked. The deputies said she caught their attention when she walked behind a shipping container after spotting them.

Santos has said she didn’t move after she saw the deputies while she peacefully ate her lunch before her shift started in a nearby market. Santos was turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after a background check revealed an active warrant for deportation.

Her complaint, which also names the Frederick County Board of Commissioners, alleges the sheriff’s office overstepped its authority under an immigration enforcement program that trains local law officers to check a suspect’s immigration status. Santos was not charged in the incident.

“There’s no evidence of discrimination,” county attorney Sandra Lee told U.S. District Judge Benson Legg. “My view is that police can initiate a consensual encounter for any purpose or no purpose.”

She noted that a civilian’s judgment of suspicious behavior may not be the same as a deputy’s.

But Santos’ attorney, John Hayes Jr., argued that the deputies’ actions indicated their sole aim was to enforce immigration law. Their response to her perceived suspicious behavior was to ask her for identification, not to find out what was in her bag, Hayes noted.

“You cannot simply approach and ask for ID if the sole reason is the ethnicity of that person,” he said.

Legg did not rule immediately on the defense’s motion for a ruling on the case without a trial.