A British film director who spent 84 days in a Californian prison, despite having been ordered free on bail, will today file a multi-million dollar wrongful imprisonment claim against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Duncan Roy is heading a class-action lawsuit backed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which says he is among thousands of foreign nationals who have been illegally held in US jails after a “hold” was put on their release by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement authority (ICE).
By law, a “hold” can only be used to detain inmates for a maximum of 48 hours, in order to allow ICE to check their immigration status. But the ACLU, which originally learned of Mr Roy’s case by reading about it in The Independent, says it is being routinely used to detain people for months on end.
“It’s despicable and outrageous,” said Mr Roy yesterday. “What happened to me is happening to far too many people. It is destroying lives, and it has to stop.”
Mr Roy – whose credits include the award-winning indy title AKA, starring Bill Nighy, and the Liz Hurley film Method – was arrested in November on suspicion of attempting to blackmail Chris Cortazzo, a Malibu estate agent and former boyfriend. The two men had fallen out over a property deal.
He appeared in court days later and was immediately ordered free on bail. But the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department refused to release him from the city’s Men’s Central Jail, citing an “ICE hold.” It wasn’t until February that they backed down.
During the incarceration, Mr Roy, a cancer patient, was denied access to doctors. He was repeatedly told that he would be freed only if he agreed to plead guilty to a felony, which would have resulted in immediate deportation.
After his release, as questions began to be asked about the case, prosecutors agreed to drop the felony extortion charges. In a plea bargain, Mr Roy, who is in the US legally, agreed to plead guilty to a minor misdemeanour, for which he paid no fine, and served no jail time. He was also allowed to remain in the US.
The allegedly-unlawful jail stay had led to the abandonment of It Gets Better, a film Mr Roy was to have made starting Azchary Quinto. Since his release, he has struggled to find work, and is now seeking undisclosed damages, in addition to false imprisonment.
The LA County Sheriff did not respond to a request for comment from The Indepedent. Jennie Pasquarella, an ACLU lawyer working on Roy’s case, said that its use of ICE “holds,” under which roughly which 2,000 people are currently being detained in Men’s Central Jail alone, is: “completely unlawful.”