Nashville TN Aug 14 2012 The Tennessee Supreme Court will decide if Davidson County’s sheriff has the power to investigate inmates’ immigration status. But Metro doesn’t want to leave it up to the courts to decide what else he can do.
Metro’s Law Department is proposing an amendment to the Metro Charter that would explicitly spell out the various duties the sheriff began performing after the formation of the charter. The 1963 charter largely stripped the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office of most of its policing power. But a lawsuit challenging Sheriff Daron Hall’s 287(g) immigration program prompted discussion about what exactly the charter allows.
“The idea of this is to really clear up non-287(g) issues going forward,” Hall said Friday. “Let’s make sure going forward there are no questions.”
Hall and Metro Law Director Saul Solomon say the amendment, which will be on the November ballot if the Metro Council approves it, does not expand the sheriff’s powers but merely clarifies them.
The 1963 charter put the sheriff in charge of the jails and largely stripped the position of its policing powers, transferring those to Metro Police. But since then, the sheriff has taken on more duties that aren’t explicitly spelled out in the charter.
“The world has changed since the charter took, obviously,” Solomon said. “Booking, courthouse security, DNA squad, serving protective orders. I don’t think we’ll be looking for anything else. We’re not looking to expand anything that he’s doing currently.”
Metro estimates the county saves $4 million a year by having the sheriff perform those duties, largely because it’s cheaper to employ jail deputies than police officers.
Police Chief Steve Anderson said the amendment also would allow the police and sheriff to swap some duties in the name of cost savings.
“We’ll continue to look for things where we’re either duplicating something or if his people can do things in a more efficient manner,” Anderson said.
Immigration attorney Elliott Ozment threw the sheriff’s powers into question in a 2011 lawsuit filed to stop Hall’s 287(g) program. Under the program, sheriff’s deputies investigate each inmate booked into Davidson County jails to determine their immigration status.
Ozment brought the suit on behalf of three legal residents who were screened and detained in the program. He argues that the sheriff, under the charter, does not have the legal authority to conduct immigration investigations.
Ozment on Friday said he couldn’t comment until he saw the proposed amendment, but he questioned Metro’s timing.
“I’m puzzled as to why they are doing this now. Why not wait and see what the Supreme Court says in the case that’s now pending before it?” he asked. “The Supreme Court might clarify all the issues everyone is confused about.”
Ozment declined to comment on the ongoing lawsuit against the sheriff. Solomon and Hall said they were confident Metro would prevail in court.
The case was argued before the Tennessee Supreme Court in June, and a decision could come at any time.