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A Trump Favorite For His Hardline Anti-Immigration Stance, Maryland Sheriff Now Faces Re-Election

Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins seeks a fourth term as critics blast him for a record that includes poor jail conditions, in-custody suicides, and the deaths of two young people at the hands of his deputies.

Frederick County Sheriff Chuck JenkinsPhoto illustration by Anagraph/Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty

The Appeal is spotlighting sheriffs across the country who are seeking re-election on Nov. 6. The rest of the series is available here.

On Oct. 7, 2008, Roxana Orellana Santos sat down on the curb to eat lunch outside her workplace in Frederick, Maryland, when she was approached by two Frederick County sheriff’s deputies. When they learned that Santos, who is from El Salvador, had an outstanding ICE warrant, she was arrested and transported to the Frederick County Adult Detention Center and then turned over to ICE; she remained in the agency’s custody for a little more than one month.

About one year later, Santos filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the sheriff, the Frederick County Board of Commissioners, and several individuals with ICE and the Department of Homeland Security. She claimed that her Fourth Amendment rights—the right to be free from unreasonable seizure—were violated and that she was targeted because of her national origin, a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. According to the lawsuit, the incident caused Santos “to suffer humiliation, emotional distress, physical pain and monetary damages” as well as fear that deputies would unlawfully arrest her or her family in the future.

The lawsuit also accused Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins of devoting “an increasingly greater share of [the county’s] resources to the enforcement of federal immigration laws,” specifically through its participation in the 287(g) program that allows deputies to carry out functions of federal immigration officers. Jenkins, the lawsuit alleged, created “a climate of fear among immigrants, Latinos, and those perceived to be of either or both groups.” In August 2013, the U.S. Court Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in Santos’s favor. Last month, a judge ruled that Jenkins and Frederick County are liable for damages in Santos’s arrest and detention.

Jenkins’s hardline anti-immigrant stance has helped him become a national figure in his 12 years as Frederick County sheriff. In 2014, after returning from a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border funded by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (labeled a hate group with white supremacist links by the Southern Poverty Law Center), Jenkins called for military deployment on the border. He’s now a go-to guest on Fox News to blast critics of ICE, and the conservative network included him in a 2011 list of “America’s Top 10 ‘Toughest’ Immigration Sheriffs,” second only to Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona. In September, Jenkins was part of a group of sheriffs who President Trump feted at the White House. It was Jenkins’s second visit this year: In February, he joined Trump to discuss immigration policy and the Salvadoran gang MS-13.

But Jenkins faces re-election on Nov. 6. Under his leadership, Frederick County, home to about 200,000 people of whom 10 percent are Black and 9.5 percent are Latinx, was the first in Maryland to join 287(g). Jenkins’s record also includes poor jail conditions, multiple in-custody suicides as well the deaths of two young people at the hands of his deputies. In 2013, deputies sporting SWAT gear and night-vision goggles killed 19-year-old Daniel Vail while raiding the home he lived in with his mother. The same week, three off-duty deputies working a security detail wrestled Robert E. Saylor, a 26-year-old man with Down syndrome, to the ground after he wouldn’t leave a movie theater. Saylor died after he was handcuffed and forced from the theater.

Jenkins’s challenger is Karl Bickel, a veteran of both the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services and the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office. Bickel has blasted Jenkins for what he says is the sheriff’s inattentiveness to the opioid crisis, but he has not come out definitively against 287(g); instead, he has simply called for an audit of the program.

Organizers with groups such as the ACLU of Maryland, Safe Haven Frederick, and the RISE Coalition of Western Maryland, meanwhile, have called for the shutdown of 287(g) in Frederick County. Safe Haven Frederick told The Appeal that immigrants traveling through the area know that they have to be careful, and that they are more likely to be asked of their immigration status or potentially arrested for something that they might not be arrested for elsewhere.  

A recent affidavit filed in Santos’s lawsuit shows that her experience of profiling by Jenkins’s deputies was not an anomaly. In July, Sara Medrano said that while driving home with her daughter, deputies stopped her and said she had a broken tail light. After the deputies inquired about Medrano’s citizenship, they attempted to call immigration officials to detain her but eventually let her go after officials did not answer the call.

Jenkins’s cooperation with ICE is not limited to 287(g); his office also has an agreement with ICE to house the agency’s detainees in Frederick County Detention Center, which has been criticized for its unconstitutional conditions. And in August, Maryland Public Defender Paul DeWolfe said the adult jail has been holding children under 18 in isolation for 23 hours per day while they await transfers to the juvenile detention center. Numerous studies have found that the trauma of solitary is particularly acute in young people because their brains are still developing.

Suicide has also been prevalent in the detention center. In 2013, two families sued Jenkins based on the treatment their loved ones received in Frederick County jails before they committed suicide. In October 2010, Valerie Miller, who had bipolar disorder and opioid use disorder, killed herself after being incarcerated for two days while experiencing withdrawal. The sheriff’s office refuses to provide drugs like Methadone and Suboxone that help those with opioid use disorders manage their addiction and alleviate withdrawal symptoms. Three months earlier, William John Hanlin died by suicide in the jail while being held in a solitary confinement unit. Hanlin also experienced severe withdrawal symptoms and his family’s lawsuit argued that the jail failed to provide him with proper treatment for his mental health issues or his substance use disorder.

When contacted by The Appeal, Sheriff Jenkins declined to comment on his office’s participation in the 287(g) program, Santos’ lawsuit, or the deaths in his jail.

Bickel, however, told The Appeal that people with substance use disorders should receive treatment, instead of jail time and a criminal record. For Bickel, Jenkins’s anti-immigrant stance is a distraction from serious issues plaguing Frederick County like fatal opioid overdoses.

“His focus on the immigration issue is for political reasons—trying to garner some votes from certain segments of the population by fearmongering,” Bickel said.