Woman who gave birth in sheriff's custody innocent on one charge

Friday, August 15, 2008 at 6:25pm
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Juana Villegas, left, was found innocent of careless driving in Berry Hill Municipal Court on Friday afternoon.

The woman who was arrested while nine months pregnant and later gave birth while in sheriff’s office custody was found innocent Friday on one of the charges for which she was initially arrested.

Juana Villegas was found innocent of careless driving in the Berry Hill Municipal Court because her arresting officer checked the wrong information on her citation.

Villegas was found guilty of driving without insurance, which carries with it a $10 fine plus court costs.

Elliot Ozment, Villegas’ attorney, championed the ruling, but condemned his client’s treatment during her arrest.

Ozment said Villegas and her children were treated disrespectfully by Berry Hill Police Sergeant Tim Coleman on the day of her arrest. Ozment said Villegas, who was nine months pregnant, and her three children were forced to sit in their truck on a hot July day for about 30 minutes.

Ozment also stated that it was his belief Villegas was treated poorly while in the custody of the Davidson County Sheriff’s office following her arrest on July 3. Villegas was in custody for six days and went into labor during that time. She gave birth to her fourth child and was shackled to her hospital bed while in labor.

The shackles were removed two hours before Villegas gave birth, according to the sheriff’s office, but Villegas was separated from her child for hours after the birth.

While Villegas was in custody, it was determined she was an illegal immigrant through the implementation of the sheriff’s office new 287(g) program, which checks the immigration status of an individual once they are in custody. Ozment said he had no comment on potential immigration Villegas could face.

“I think the arrest in this case, which was not an issue in this particular hearing, was inhumane,” Ozment said. “And her treatment following the arrest by the sheriff of Davidson County was also inhumane. And we’ll be taking those issues up at the appropriate time.”

During Coleman’s testimony, he described a scene in which Villegas, who does not speak fluent English, cried, “No illegal,” when he asked her to show him a driver’s license.

Villegas presented a Mexican identification card, but didn’t have insurance. Coleman said Villegas and her three children, ages 14, 11 and 2, cried together during the arrest.

Dan Alexander, the attorney for Berry Hill, objected during the trial when Ozment attempted to question Coleman on his treatment of Villegas and her children during the arrest. The objections were sustained by Judge Cantrell.

“Those are facts that we had hoped to bring out,” Ozment said. “And I think I’ll save any comment about that until those facts are able to be presented in a court of law.

“But it is my understanding that she and the children were crying. They were seated in a hot car whose motor had been cut off for 40 minutes, with one child that was especially active. I think evidence will show that this officer in the final analysis showed a total lack of respect to her and her children.”

Coleman, who ran for Metro School board earlier this month and lost, left the city offices before he could be reached for comment.

During the trial, it was revealed that Coleman checked the wrong box on the citation as to the exact location of the traffic violation, so that charge was dismissed. In addition, he said during the trial that his in-car camera was broken on the day of Villegas' arrest.

Gregg Ramos, former president of the Nashville Bar Association and a vocal critic of 287(g), said the innocent verdict for Villegas highlights a weakness of the program, because an individual can be innocent but still face deportation.

“I think this highlights the problem,” Ramos said. “It doesn’t seem to matter that the charge stands up in court or not. She still was subjected to horrible abuse and horrible treatment and still faces potential penalty down the road.

“But more importantly here, I think is the terrible treatment that she received in Sheriff Daron Hall’s jail.”

8 Comments on this post:

By: Dragon on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Ramos said this was an innocent verdict. WRONG.The charge was dismissed due to a technicality. She could very well be guilty.Earlier stories state she had previously been deported. That means she is guilty of a felony. Sorry she was crying.

By: nnoseworthy on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Sorry she and her kids had to sit in a hot car. It's probably hotter in Mexico.If she had a driver's license, proof of insurance, and had not been driving recklessly (the reason for the initial stop), I'm sure Officer Coleman would not have stopped her. So that part, at least, is her fault.If you are deported and return illegally again, you are a felon. Officer Coleman didn't make her come across the border, and it's Villegas again who made the decision to break our Federal laws."Sherriff Hall's jail" isn't a fun place to be, which is why it doesn't say "DisneyWorld" above the door. According to just about everyone who has every been in, they treat everyone the same: better than a Mexican jail.Hey Rau: Did the judge say "innocent" and bring the gavel down? Or did he say something like "charge dropped"?

By: jsnap on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Did she or did she not commit a crime? She did. No matter what the location was, she committed a crime. Ramos stated therefore it was possible to be innocent and be deported. What part of committing a crime does he not understand? I wonder where he got his law degree. Or does he even have one? Remember , they are experts at creating documents.

By: JeffF on 12/31/69 at 7:00

can be innocent but still face deportation? Seriously, that was your argument? Only te guilty are deported, that is the beauty of that particular system. If you are here illegally (twice) then you will be deported for being here illegally. We are sorry that you are not as shielded from discovery as you once were, but illegal is illegal.

By: sidneyames on 12/31/69 at 7:00

First of all, if she were in Southern California, the traffic jams are longer than 40 minutes and I have personally sat in traffic from Woodmont Blvd all the way to Nolensville Road for 40 minutes during HOT, hot, hot weather. So shut up whinning about sitting in a hot car. Cripes! She is from Mexico, one of the hottest places on the planet. She is bucking for a lawsuit so she can make some extra money off the U.S. citizens. She was an ILLEGAL. Can anybody speak English anymore in this country? Can her lawyer speak English? Is Ozment so de-mented that he can't see or think straight? Yes, maybe she can be found innocent of the traffic violation, but her guilty charge is that of being in the U.S. ILLEGALLY. I'm getting so fed up with these people! And her 4 children need to go back to Mexico with her -- without U.S. benefits! Let Mexico feed her and them!

By: gofer on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Mexican banks won't even accept a Matricular card as ID, even though many good ole American banks will. She had no valid form of ID. Matricular cards identify one as a illegal alien because a legal alien has no need of one. She was a felon, having entered the country for a second time. Amazing how the Mexican govt. comes to the aid of an illegal arrested during a traffic stop. Hurray for the Sheriff's dept. People are sick of illegals gaming the system. Anybody wanna guess who paid for all those kids? Total estimated costs of illegals in the country is 338.6 BILLION annually. We don't need their "economic" contribution with that price tag along with the thousands of people killed on the highways by drunk illegals. Enough already.

By: Legal citizen on 8/16/11 at 11:08

What part of ILLEGAL (meaning not legal or not lawful) in illegal immigrant do you people not understand? She should not be ENTITLED to anything in the U.S., as she is not an american citizen. She had no RIGHTS as those are reserved for American citizens that are LEGALLY here in the country. Moreover she is a repeat criminal offender, First by entering the country ILLEGALLY the first time then being deported and returning once again ILLEGALLY, then driving without a license ILLEGALLY.(Did she have insurance?) She is a repeat criminal offender and a drain on the U.S. taxpayer that is here legally. How much has she paid in taxes since she has been here? (NONE= Tax evasion once again another criminal act) She has how many kids that were born here as a result of her criminal act of sneaking into the country repeatedly ILLEGALLY? Who pays for the social services i.e Food Stamps or welfare, WIC or any other government service funded by legal U.S. taxpayers that ARE here LEGALLY. What a joke! You come here illegally, burden our system, commit criminal or illegal offences, then have the nerve to believe we owe you something. How disgusting! If for some reason she is awarded some kind of monetary settlement out of this, it should be seized by the IRS for her tax evasion. Why should I or other taxpaying legal citizens have to pay for people like this? The short answer is we shouldnt! Our country is in debt. We dont have enough money for you too. The loopholes need to be shut down. and the ILLEGALS need to be sent packing!

By: Legal citizen on 8/16/11 at 11:22

To all the ILLEGALS.
Please stop comming here. Especially trying to use our AMERICAN CONSTITUTION against us to suck even more money from us that you are not entitled to. I and the legal residents of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA do not owe you diddly squat. When you come here ILLEGALLY you owe us money... You are not my child and I dont owe you any support.
II wish I could go to Mexico and demand that your government pay us back for any assistance that you have received here. Then let them recover that from you.