Man wrongfully detained for months says police falsely labeled him as a gang member

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CHICAGO -- A Back of the Yards man who says he was held in detention for months and threatened with deportation after he was falsely accused of being a gang member spoke out about his ordeal Sunday.

“It’s very hard for me to even speak on the topic,” 32-year-old Wilmer Catalan-Ramirez said through a translator. “I am in need of therapy. I have psychological damages. Those ten months inside detention were not easy. They were very very hard."

It all began, Catalan-Ramirez's lawyers say, when he was falsely added to the Chicago Police Department’s gang database. They say he had no criminal record and his contact with police had been limited to “random stops” in what police described as "known gang neighborhoods." They say he was mislabeled as a gang member as a result of these interactions.

“Because he was Latino and male and young, they labeled him a gang member,” attorney Sheila Bedi said.

He was living as an undocumented immigrant at the time, so once he was labeled as a gang member, Catalan-Ramirez lost protections given under the city's "sanctuary city" ordinance. His information was turned over to federal authorities. Then U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided his home without a warrant last March, and placed him under arrest.

“We know that they entered without permission, we know it was seven agents and we know their names, and we know that they took him aggressively away from his family,” said Xanat Sobrevilla, Organized Communities Against Deportations.

Catalan-Ramirez spent ten months in a detention center at the McHenry County Jail, during which he says he was injured, mistreated and threatened with deportation by federal officials.

Immigration advocates joined with Northwestern University lawyers and community activists to argue his case, and call for an end to the Chicago Police Gang Database, which they say ensnares innocent people.

Police eventually issued a letter saying they could not verify Catalan-Ramirez's  gang affiliation, and ICE agreed to stay his deportation. At a news conference Monday, the father of three said he decided to drop pending lawsuits against Chicago police, ICE and McHenry to be with his family.

"Being with my children has no price, that’s why I agreed to the deal and to forego the lawsuit," he said. "I know this is not right, I know they used violence against me and I’m not okay with that, but at the end of the day, there is no price on me being with my children."

Under the terms of the settlement, city officials also agreed to write a letter in support of his visa application to federal immigration officials, and immigration officials will allow him to stay in the U.S. while his visa application is being processed.

WGN reached out to Chicago police and mayor's office, but neither commented on the case.