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CRIPPLE CREEK — On the opening day of a three-day trial, Sheriff Jason Mikesell argued Tuesday his agreement with federal immigration agents does not violate state law, and is “integral” to his mission of keeping peace across Teller County. 

But according to the ACLU of Colorado, jail logs, booking paperwork and other documents presented in court provided evidence of a practice that ignored the Colorado constitution and kept people in jail even after they posted bond, violating their rights and wasting taxpayers’ money. 

Five Teller County residents are suing Mikesell, alleging the sheriff violated Colorado law by partnering with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to enforce federal immigration law. The bench trial in Cripple Creek will be decided by Teller County District Court Judge Scott Sells. 

For hours Tuesday, attorneys for the plaintiffs and Mikesell introduced forms and training certificates, inspected signatures and asked questions regarding the county’s jail protocols. 

The first day of the trial came several years after the ACLU first filed its lawsuit against Mikesell over the agreement in 2019; that came shortly after Colorado enacted a statute that prohibits state law enforcement officers from arresting or detaining people on the basis of ICE documents that are not signed by a judge. 

A judge ruled in 2020 that the plaintiffs did not have a legal standing to file the lawsuit, but the Colorado Court of Appeals reversed the decision last year, sending the case back to district court.

Teller County is the only place in Colorado where the 287(g) agreement still operates, according to the ACLU. 

Since the county entered the agreement in 2019, four deputies have been sent to a four-week, out-of-state training on immigration arrests and other duties otherwise reserved to federal officers. 

In its lawsuit, the ACLU cited three people who were detained at the Teller County jail after they posted bond since the sheriff’s office entered the agreement. 

On the stand Tuesday, Mikesell likened the 287(g) agreement to others the sheriff’s office holds with various federal agencies like the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Forest Service. The agreements are “commonplace” and give his deputies extra tools to promote public safety, he said.

The 287(g) training the deputies received was paid for by ICE, Mikesell said. 

Since he was elected as sheriff in 2018, Mikesell said one of his top priorities was to eradicate illicit marijuana grows, citing numerous complaints from residents.

His office’s enforcement on the issue led to arrests of people who were living in the U.S. illegally, he said. 

Deputies “purposefully” made the immigration-related arrests inside the jail, which Mikesell described as a controlled environment and much safer than in an open area or on the street, where an arrest can become more dangerous. 

Attorneys for the ACLU said the agreement does not promote public safety, but instead held people in jail after Colorado law determined they were a low risk to society and were allowed to be released from jail on bond.

Testimony also came from Laura Hammond, a former Teller County sheriff’s lieutenant who was the first deputy with the sheriff’s office to attend the ICE training. 

Hammond executed warrants to hold people in the Teller County jail after they posted bond, under the authority of an ICE officer, she said. The paperwork did not need to be signed by a judge, she added. 

Hammond and the three other deputies who received the 287(g) training were not POST-certified, meaning that under state law they are not able to make arrests for state-level crimes.  

Jail deputies were trained to notify a 287(g) deputy or ICE directly about any person booked into the jail who was born outside of the country or did not have a social security number, Hammond said. 

She said she received “numerous” calls from deputies working at the jail about the possibility that someone may be violating immigration law, which would prompt her to begin an investigation into whether that person has U.S. citizenship and alert ICE.

If ICE determined the person was violating federal immigration law, Hammond could place a hold on the inmate, forcing them to stay regardless if they posted bond.

Testimony is expected to continue for two more days ahead of closing arguments Thursday.

Olivia Prentzel

Olivia Prentzel is a general assignment writer for The Colorado Sun. Email: oliviaprentzel@coloradosun.com