The Immigration and Customs Enforcement holding facility
A lawsuit from the ACLU claims agents from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency and the Nashville Police Department conducted a raid on an apartment complex -- leading to the arrest of 20 people -- without a search warrant. Reuters

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit on behalf of 15 residents of a Tennessee apartment complex who had their homes illegally raided by immigration officials on Oct. 20, 2010, an act the suit claims was the result of a conspiracy to rid the complex of its Hispanic residents.

Multiple Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, in addition to officers from the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department and the employees for the private security company Crime Suppression Services, forced their ways into multiple residences in South Nashville's Clairmont Apartments without a search warrant, ultimately arresting 20 people, according to the lawsuit. The ACLU of Tennessee reports ICE officials broke into apartments, harassed residents with racially-charged slurs and even held guns to the heads of some unarmed individuals.

When one of the residents asked the law enforcements agents if they had a search warrant, one agent reportedly replied, We don't need a warrant, we're ICE. He then gestured to his genitals and made an explicit reference, saying the warrant was coming out of that area.

It is unclear as to whether the agent in question has been identified. Lindsay Kee, the communications director of ACLU Tennessee told the International Business Times the office did not have any additional information about the incident beyond what is listed in the legal complaint.

ICE officials did not return a request for comment. The agency told The Tennessean it does not comment on pending litigation.

Did Law Enforcement Officials Violate 4th, 5th, and 14th Amendments?

The lawsuit argues law enforcement officials violated the plaintiffs' -- who are all U.S. citizens -- rights under the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and federal civil rights laws.

In particular, the Fourth Amendment strictly prohibits law enforcement from intruding into private homes without a judicially authorized search warrant. In the absence of a warrant, citizens' must offers their voluntary and knowing consent.

The plaintiffs include a child who the ACLU claims was detained and interrogated while playing soccer on a playground because he appeared to be of Latino descent.

The lawsuit names several ICE agents, officers from the Nashville police department as well as the apartment complex's owner, manager and security company. The apartment complex is managed by Greystar Real Estate Partners and owned by TriTex Real Estate Partners.

In a statement released shortly after the incident, the Nashville Police Department said the raid was in response to reports from Clairmont Apartments' employees who said there was a threatening gang presence at the complex, The Tennessean reports. Police said they were concerned gangs were preying on undocumented immigrants that were hesitant to report robberies and other crimes because of their immigration status.

The department statement, according to the newspaper, said officers merely conducted knock and talks and did not illegally force their way into their homes.

The statement does not appear on the police department's Web site.

The lawsuit claims Greystar manager Tracy Hall told police she intended to clean house, and get the Hispanics gone. As a result, the management company reportedly allowed building conditions to deteriorate. In addition, in the course of one rental cycle Greystar abandoned its on-site offices, began demanding Social Security numbers in order to sign lease agreements, and coordinated immigration raids that led to 20 detentions and resulted in scores of apartment vacancies.

Some of the 20 people arrested during the Oct. 2010 raid were placed into deportation proceedings, while others were released. No criminal charges were pursued.

In an Oct. 19 news conference where ACLU officials announced the lawsuit -- just one day before the year-anniversary of the incident -- Megan Macaraeg of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition said many Hispanic residents are leaving Clairmont Apartments out of fear.

I was just there today chatting with residents, Macaraeg said. There are still apartments that stand vacant, and most Hispanic residents who were there are gone, have fled the site of terror.