Plaintiffs Robert Dexter Weir, Patrick Wayne Ferguson, David Roderick Williams, and Luther Fian Patterson are Jamaican fishermen. In September 2017, the Coast Guard stopped their fishing boat in the Caribbean Sea, seized the men, and removed them from their boat, which the Coast Guard destroyed. Coast Guard officers then forced the men to strip naked — supplying them with paper-thin coveralls — before chaining them to the deck of a Coast Guard ship, which made stops in Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Miami. During their 32-day detention, the men were prevented from communicating with their families or anyone else on the outside, all the while being denied access to shelter, basic sanitation, proper food, and medical care.
The Coast Guard finally delivered the men to Miami in October, 2017 after more than a month of inhumane and incommunicado detention at sea. Initially, the United States charged each of the men with conspiracy to distribute marijuana, but there was no evidence of marijuana on the boat. The men later pleaded guilty to providing the Coast Guard with false information about their destination” because they were advised that it was the quickest and surest way to get back to their homes and families in Jamaica and to put an end to their nightmare. The men were each sentenced to 10 months imprisonment. After serving their sentences and spending a further two months in federal immigration detention, the United States returned the men to their homes and families in Jamaica.
As a result of their secret and abusive detention by the Coast Guard the men suffered and continue to suffer physical and psychological trauma. The men also returned to their families financially ruined due to the Coast Guard’s confiscation of their national identity cards, driving and fishing licenses, and the destruction of their fishing boat and equipment.
Plaintiffs filed this suit under admiralty and maritime tort law to recover damages for the physical and psychological trauma they have suffered and continue to suffer as a consequence of their unlawful seizure; the Coast Guard’s destruction of their boat and other property and their 32-day inhumane and incommunicado detention by the Coast Guard. Plaintiffs also seek declaratory and injunctive relief against the Coast Guard so that they can once again freely ply their trade as fishermen in international waters near Jamaica, without exposure to Defendants’ unlawful policy and practice.
The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The Coast Guard asked the Court to dismiss the case on the ground that it involved "political questions" that courts can't review. On January 15, 2021, Senior Judge Thomas Hogan denied most of the Coast Guard's motion to dismiss, so the case will proceed.
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