Providence and Central Falls file lawsuit against U.S. Department of Justice

Updated at 10:47 p.m.

PROVIDENCE – The cities of Providence and Central Falls have filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice, similar to the lawsuit Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin filed Tuesday against the DOJ to protect the state of Rhode Island, to prevent the Trump administration from imposing new conditions on public safety grants, Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, Central Falls Mayor James A. Diossa and public safety officials announced Thursday.

According to a news release, the Department of Justice this past year altered the conditions that allow states to receive funding from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Associate Grant, which was created in 2005 in honor of a New York police officer that was killed while protecting a Guyanese immigrant. The Byrne JAG grant provides state and local police departments nationwide with funding for programs such as crime prevention and education, planning, evaluation and technology improvement.

States must now be certified in compliance with 8 U.S.C. § 1373, which bars restrictions on federal-local sharing of immigrant information. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security must have unlimited access to local police stations and law enforcement facilities to interrogate suspects. Cities must also provide DHS with a notice of at least 48 hours for an arrestee’s release – a condition that would require detaining individuals beyond the permissible time set under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Since 2005, Rhode Island has benefited from the grant at both the state and municipal level. For fiscal year 2017, the Providence Police Department was awarded $212,112 and has in the past used the Byrne JAG program funding to partner with Family Service of Rhode Island to employ a part-time bilingual police liaison and pay personnel in overtime. Similarly, the Central Falls Police Department received a $28,677 Byrne JAG award for fiscal year 2017. Previously, the department used the grant for internet access and tablets for detectives in 2016, upgrades to police servers in 2015 and upgrades to video cameras in 2014.

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On Tuesday, Kilmartin filed a lawsuit against the DOJ to protect the state of Rhode Island against future funding cuts from the grant. Similar action has been taken by attorneys general in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia and Washington.

According to the R.I. Office of the Attorney General, the state entered into a stipulation agreement with the Department of Justice Thursday that requires the $766,000 Byrne JAG award provided to the state for fiscal year 2017 to be held until the lawsuit has been settled. This new agreement signifies the state does not yet have to comply with the new federal immigration policies or accept the grant. Although the state will not be able to access the Byrne JAG funds, the DOJ is prohibited from redistributing the money to other jurisdictions.

Amy Kempe, public information officer for the R.I. Office of the Attorney General, said the new agreement between the state and the DOJ “does not affect the Byrne JAG awards to Providence and Central Falls.”

A spokesperson for the city of Central Falls said late Thursday night the Byrne JAG funds for Providence and Central Falls are also on hold.

Had the grant funding not been held, the cities and the state would have had until Friday to accept their respective Byrne JAG awards, including agreement to the new conditions implemented by the DOJ.

Haley Hunt is a PBN contributing writer.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that the Byrne JAG funds for the cities of Providence and Central Falls have also been put on hold.