Racial profiling by law enforcement against a woman who had committed no crime

Case Description

On February 19, 2013, the ACLU of Minnesota filed a lawsuit in federal district court against the City of Gaylord and its police department, the Sibley County Sheriff’s Office, and others for violating the constitutional rights of Jesus Mendoza Sierra. Mendoza’s Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated when the defendant officers and deputies illegally arrested, detained, and interrogated her in March 2012 after the driver of the car she was in was arrested.

Although police dispatch clearly indicated that law enforcement did not have a valid reason to detain Mendoza and officers on the scene were able to confirm her identity with a Minnesota state ID, Sibley Sheriff Deputy Marvin Doeden refused to let the Spanish-speaking Mendoza leave for work. Despite a complete lack of probable cause or reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct, deputy Doeden detained Mendoza, searched her person, and then took her to the Gaylord Police Station for questioning. At no point was Mendoza given an explanation of her rights.

At the station, Mendoza was interrogated on record by law enforcement officers in a large conference room. In a poorly translated interview, an outraged Officer Jeff Milette repeatedly accused Mendoza of lying about her identity. In humiliating fashion, the officers took to shouting at her, asking her how she came to the United States, demanding she produce immigration documents, calling her a liar, and telling her to “shut up.” At no point was she free to leave.

After the interrogation, three officers escorted Mendoza to her home to see if “she had paperwork to prove that she is the same person on her license.” When they arrived at her home, two officers entered the home without her permission and without consent. Officer Milette escorted Mendoza into her bedroom and proceeded to grab and inspect her personal papers. Only after he was able to confirm that she was legally in the United States did he let her go free.

In audio from the day of the incident, Officer Milette can be heard gleefully explaining how much he would enjoy making some popcorn and pulling up a chair to tease minority inmates into fighting. “Look at the monkeys! Look at the monkeys!,” he exclaimed. He also suggested they could always “mop up the blood later.” One jail employee proposed that two Hispanic inmates fight. In apparent disagreement, Officer Milette reminded the employee that Rosales wanted “no part of [fighting] Zambrano” the other night.

The lawsuit seeks damages and declaratory and injunctive relief for the violations of Mendoza’s rights.

Case Updates

This case was won on January 30, 2015. As part of the settlement, and after litigation denying the allegations, the two departments jointly paid Jesus Mendoza Sierra $40,000 and agreed to make changes in police department practices. 


Albert Goins, Goins Law Offices, Ltd. in Minneapolis; Ian Bratlie, Staff Attorney for the Greater Minnesota Racial Justice Project at ACLU-MN in Mankato; and, Teresa Nelson, ACLU-MN Legal Director

Date filed

February 1, 2017


United States District Court - District of Minnesota