Indian immigrant sues Edison Township, NJ police for brutality and violation of First Amendment rights

Wednesday, Jul 2, 2008

Complaint Alleges That Edison Police Reported Him to Federal Immigration Authorities in Retaliation for His Brutality Complaint

Newark, NJ -- Rajnikant Parikh, a former resident of Edison, New Jersey, filed a lawsuit today in New Jersey federal court against the Township of Edison, several officers of the Edison Police Department (EPD), and officers of the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for violations of his civil rights stemming from a beating Parikh suffered at the hands of several EPD officers in 2006 and subsequent retaliatory immigration arrest for his complaints regarding the assault. Parikh is represented by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) and the Law Offices of Ravinder S. Bhalla.

On July 4, 2006, Mr. Parikh was, without provocation, brutally assaulted and arrested by Officer Michael Dotro and other officers of the EPD. The officers repeatedly punched and kicked Parikh in front of his apartment building in Edison, and continued to do so even as he lay handcuffed on the ground. Upon his release from police custody, Mr. Parikh sought medical attention for the numerous physical injuries he suffered from the attack, including bruises and contusions to his back, face, and head, and severe back pain. The next day, Mr. Parikh filed a formal complaint against Officer Dotro and the other EPD officers involved, which triggered an internal investigation by the EPD.

In the weeks that followed, Mr. Parikh made public statements condemning the unlawful conduct of the EPD officers and called for the suspension of Officer Dotro. In addition, Mr. Parikh and other members of the Indian American community began planning and publicizing a peaceful rally to be held on August 2, 2006 to protest the actions of the EPD and Officer Dotro. The Township of Edison has a population of approximately 105,000, 30% of whom are of Asian American descent.

In retaliation for Mr. Parikh's formal complaint and public statements, Officer Dotro communicated Mr. Parikh's identity to his brother, Sam Dotro, an attorney at ICE. Together the Dotro brothers investigated Mr. Parikh and coordinated a plan to arrest him on immigration charges. At the rally in Edison on August 2, 2006, Parikh was arrested by ICE agents and, soon after, deported to India.

Mr. Parikh said, "First, I was beaten at the hands of the Edison police for no reason. When I complained and tried to speak out about what happened to me, they reported me to immigration in retaliation. I am being punished for being outspoken about the unjust manner in which the police officers treated me. My entire life has been turned upside down."

Edison cannot stand behind the actions of these officers. If it does, the Township is saying to immigrants that they will face deportation if they choose to assert their constitutionally protected rights, said AALDEF Staff Attorney Tushar J. Sheth.

The lawsuit asserts that Mr. Parikh's First Amendment "right to petition" the government was violated when Edison police officers reported Mr. Parikh to ICE in retaliation for his complaint and public statements against them. In 2007, a federal court ruled that the right to petition includes an immigrant/s right to file a grievance against the government without facing retaliation by being reported to immigration authorities. The lawsuit also asserts that EPD officers violated Mr. Parikh's Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures when they brutally assaulted and beat him.

Over the last two years, there has been a growing debate in New Jersey over the role that the State and municipal governments should play in the enforcement of Federal immigration law. Several advocacy groups, including AALDEF, have taken the position that such enforcement inevitably engenders distrust between local government and immigrant residents.

"Mr. Parikh's situation could have been prevented had Edison Township set a policy prohibiting its police from making immigration-related inquiries," stated Alexander W. Saingchin, AALDEF Staff Attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow. "Instead, what occurred only underscores the reason why many immigrants are fearful of seeking help from the police. State and local authorities should leave the enforcement of immigration law to the federal government," concluded Saingchin.

For more information:
Alexander W. Saingchin
Staff Attorney
212.966.5932 ext. 207
asaingchin@aaldef.org

Tushar J. Sheth
Staff Attorney
212.966.5932 ext. 220
asaingchin@aaldef.org