NORTHWOOD, N.H. - The ACLU of New Hampshire today announced that it has settled a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of NH’s Immigrants’ Rights Project against the Town of Northwood. In this case, Northwood improperly arrested a man, Johoani Velasco Perea, on the suspicion that he was in the United States unlawfully. However, Mr. Velasco Perea resides in the United States lawfully. The settlement includes a payment of $12,500, and follows a settlement between Exeter and the ACLU of NH for $39,175 where the Exeter Police Department similarly held a man for immigration purposes. Both the settlements of this case and the Exeter case included changes of police policy.
Gilles Bissonnette, the ACLU of New Hampshire's legal director, said, “This case is about ensuring that police officers do not arrest people simply because they suspect the person might be an undocumented immigrant. Local New Hampshire police departments should not stop, detain, search, or arrest any individua based solely on that type of suspicion. Communities are less safe when local police engage in immigration enforcement because immigrants will be afraid to cooperate with local police or report when they themselves are victims of crime because they fear being incarcerated, separated from their children, and deported. Mr. Velasco Perea and the ACLU of NH appreciate the collaborative way this lawsuit was handled by Northwood in addressing the concerns raised in this case. Mr. Velasco Perea is pleased with this settlement.”
Late in the evening of Friday, September 21, 2018, the Northwood Police Department detained Mr. Velasco Perea and two other Hispanic men as they were walking towards Harding Metals, Inc. in Northwood. The Department’s police reports indicate that the three men were “Hispanic” and “suspicious.” Mr. Velasco Perea and the two men immediately explained to the Department’s officers that they were simply walking back to work at Harding Metals, Inc.—where they were building a carport—after buying food from a nearby convenience store. Rather than release Mr. Velasco Perea (as well as the two men) given the obvious absence of criminal behavior, the Department then continued to detain Mr. Velasco Perea based on the suspicion that he was undocumented. There was no basis for that suspicion. The Department asked Mr. Velasco Perea and the two other men for identification. Mr. Velasco Perea produced a valid North Carolina driver’s license to the Department. Mr. Velasco Perea also explained that he was in the United States lawfully.