1. News

Pinellas sheriff no longer keeping immigrants jailed for feds

Published Jul. 10, 2014

Several Tampa Bay area sheriffs have decided recently not to automatically jail all immigrants as requested by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri decided this week that he will allow arrested immigrants who can post bail to leave jail. Previously, the jail would hold immigrants for two days as a courtesy to federal officials while they investigated whether they wanted to try to deport the inmate.

The sheriffs in Pasco and Hernando counties had previously decided the same thing. The Hillsborough Sheriff's Office is still holding immigrants at the request of ICE.

Other sheriffs around the nation have also ended the two-day holds after judges have ruled that the practice violates the rights of immigrants.

Gualtieri said he is ending the two-day holds because he fears legal entanglements.

"What I have been trying to determine from ICE is whether they are asking us to do something that they themselves don't have legal authority to do," Gualtieri said. "It's putting us in a potential jam."

In 2009, the Pinellas jail began submitting inmate fingerprints to a database run by ICE used to detect undocumented immigrants. If ICE needed more time to determine if an inmate was here illegally, agents asked the Sheriff's Office to detain the person for up to two days, regardless of whether they could post bail.

Many of the inmates who are able to post bail are charged with minor crimes.

Gualtieri based his decision on a lawsuit in Pennsylvania in which a man of Puerto Rican descent was arrested on a cocaine charge and not allowed to post $15,000 bail due to an ICE hold. Days later, federal agents realized he was born in New Jersey. He was also acquitted on the drug charge.

The man sued several entities, including ICE and Lehigh County in Pennsylvania. The suit was dismissed, but an appeals court ruled in March that a federal hold "merely authorizes the issuance of detainers as requests," but is not the law, court records show.

The Pinellas Sheriff's Office recently sent a letter to ICE stating it would no longer honor the holds unless the agency could provide probable cause, such as a warrant or deportation order.

In 2012, a daily average of 75 Pinellas inmates were flagged by ICE, totaling 2.4 percent of the average daily inmate population of 3,100. The Sheriff's Office could not provide updated numbers Wednesday.

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office stopped honoring holds without probable cause in June after it learned of the court rulings from the Florida Sheriff's Association.

A Hernando County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman said the agency was aware of the recent rulings and updated its jail policies to reflect the changes.

Gualtieri said he recently attended a national sheriff's conference, where some sheriffs said they still honored the ICE holds, but others didn't.

"It was being handled inconsistently. Everybody was confused," he said. "This is a very new issue … everybody is trying to figure out what the right thing to do is."

That inconsistency is apparent in Tampa Bay, where the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office will continue to honor ICE's requests.

"We have not changed our policy and don't anticipate any changes at this time," agency spokesman Larry McKinnon said in an email.

ICE spokeswoman Tammy Spicer said in a statement Wednesday that the agency "anticipates" local authorities to continue enforcing holds.

"When law enforcement agencies turn over criminals into ICE custody rather than into the community," the statement read, "it helps protect both public safety and the safety of law enforcement."

Local immigration lawyers welcomed Gualtieri's decision.

"I think it's awesome," said attorney John Ovink, who has offices in Tampa and Dade City. "I think it's also correct because the Sheriff's Office is not an extension of Homeland Security."

Ramon Carrion, a Clearwater attorney, said he has had clients who were flagged by ICE at the Pinellas County Jail. Most were being held for "less serious offenses," including traffic-related charges.

"We have people that are detained needlessly," he said, adding the recent rulings "really make the most sense. It's clear from an administrative point of view, and from a constitutional point of view."

Information from the New York Times was used in this report. Contact Laura C. Morel at or (727)445-4157. Follow @lauracmorel.


  1. A semi-trailer truck fell onto an SUV on Interstate 4 on Friday night after a reported tornado touched down and crossed the highway near Lakeland. No one was injured. LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    Powerful winds caused damage and power loss but no injuries in Pinellas County. In Polk County, I-4 drivers were fortunate no one was injured when a tornado crosses the interstate.
  2. The Florida Department of Transportation is installing lights on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge as part of a $15 million project. During tests this weekend, engineers will illuminate the bridge in a pink hue to commemorate breast cancer awareness month. Courtesy of Florida Department of Transportation
    The Florida Department of Transportation is lighting up the span this weekend to commemorate breast cancer awareness month.
  3. Check for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    The 63-year-old crossing guard was hospitalized, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
  4. Amber Perera looks out at the courtroom audience during her sentencing hearing at the Hillsborough County Courthouse. Perera caused a fatal crash on the Selmon Expressway in Tampa in August, 10, 2017 that killed Rita and Luiz Felipak and their 8-year-old daughter Giorgia Felipak. SCOTT KEELER  |  Times
    Amber Perera is responsible for the 2017 crash that killed a family of three. She hopes to avoid a life sentence. The judge is still deciding.
  5. Tampa Bay Lighting host a watch party on the beach at the Tradewinds resort on St. Pete Beach in February. LUIS SANTANA  |  Tampa Bay Times
    TradeWinds is the biggest resort in Pinellas County.
  6. A view of the downtown St. Petersburg skyline and waterfront from over Tampa Bay.
    The news that the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation wants to change its name to include “Tampa Bay” has been met with resistance.
  7. Yesterday• Hillsborough
    Check for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    University police say a woman fell to her death Friday afternoon from near the top of the 8-story parking facility.
  8. Alec J. Roarks, 27, has resigned his position at Connerton Elementary School.
  9. A driver lost control and plowed into the garage of a townhouse in the 21400 block of Clubside Loop in Land O Lakes. The homeowner was in the garage at the time but was not injured. The driver suffered minor injuries. But the home's occupants had to leave because of the damage. Pasco County Fire Rescue
    The car drove through a garage wall. The homeowner was inside the garage at the time but was not injured.