Nobles Sheriff Kent Wilkening sued for keeping inmates jailed after their release date

The ACLU would like Nobles County to stop keeping people in jail for ICE, please.

The ACLU would like Nobles County to stop keeping people in jail for ICE, please. Getty Images

Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening had a habit of holding onto certain prisoners for days -- even weeks -- after they were supposed to be released.

He justified breaking the law by saying the inmates might have been undocumented immigrants. He was merely holding onto them until Immigration Customs Enforcement, better known as ICE, could take them off his hands.

In August, the ACLU of Minnesota filed a lawsuit against Nobles County and Wilkening on behalf of four inmates who had been held long after their release dates, even after some had their cases dismissed or posted bonds.

Finally, months later, it’s looking like Wilkening and the ACLU will soon have their day in court -- and so will quite a few other people. A state district court judge approved class-action status for the lawsuit on Thursday. That means this lawsuit includes “all past and current detainees in the Nobles County Jail who were, are or will be” barred from release on ICE’s behalf.

ACLU Minnesota Legal Director Teresa Nelson said in a statement that she was “pleased” by the ruling. Wilkening wasn’t immediately available for comment.

The case isn’t expected to go to trial until early next spring, but District Court Judge Gregory Anderson preemptively slapped Wilkening with a restraining order in October. It required him to release any ICE-held prisoners still in jail when their sentences were up. The reason, Anderson said, was that there was a “substantial likelihood” that the ACLU was going to come out on top.

Nobles County sent the following statement:

"The current Order is not a decision on the merits of the case. The County’s appeal of the Court’s temporary injunction is currently before the Minnesota Court of Appeals, and that decision will impact the merits of Plaintiffs’ case. The remainder of the case will continue to proceed. While the County has complied with the temporary injunction, it maintains its pre-injunction transferring of ICE-processed detainees to ICE custody after their release from state custody are not arrests on behalf of ICE, nor do such transfers violate Minnesota or federal law."