Beaver Dam man files $5 million claim against ICE
A Beaver Dam man who says he was improperly detained in the Dodge County Jail for more than six months by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials has filed a $5 million lawsuit against the federal government.
The claim was filed June 15 by Chicago attorney John Gorby on behalf of Selepri Amachree, 52. Gorby confirmed the action to the Daily Citizen, but did not wish to speak on the record about the matter.
According to the claim, Amachree — an African immigrant who has had permanent legal resident status for nearly 50 years — was taken into custody on Feb. 27, 2017, at the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office in Juneau. A federal judge ordered Amachree to be released from jail in September 2017.
Amachree said he was invited that day to the sheriff’s office by Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt. Schmidt said Amachree initiated contact with him to talk about a drug rehabilitation program he founded.
Amachree had been meeting with inmates about the program at the Dodge County Jail for about six months when he was told he would need to meet with Schmidt before further visits. Schmidt told Amachree a background check needed to be conducted before he would be allowed further visits to the jail.
Amachree said he assumed when he met with Schmidt in late February, it would be to talk about his drug rehab program.
When he arrived, Amachree said he met the sheriff first and then was led into a conference room, where there were six people around a table, most of whom he recalls were sheriff’s office staff. He said they were introduced to him and shook his hand, and the last person he was introduced to was an ICE officer. Amachree said the ICE officer handcuffed him and then turned him over to Schmidt and the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office staff.
Amachree said he was taken across the street to the Dodge County Jail and was booked into the ICE detention facility, where he remained for the next six months.
“If this happened to me, it has happened to other people,” Amachree said. “Nobody wants to see this happen to anybody they love.”
The federal government has six months to respond to the claim. When contacted a media representative responded in an email, “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not comment on pending litigation.”
Amachree was born in Liberia and came to the United States in 1969 when he was 3. His dad, Igolima Amachree, a Nigerian citizen, came to the U.S. to become a professor at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois. Selepri Amachree gained permanent legal resident status at age 4 and grew up in Macomb.
Amachree excelled in football but his playing days ended with an injury in college and he turned to music. In 1992 Amachree moved to California. He said he was looking for opportunities and that he knew people who were actors.
Amachree said he was introduced to cocaine in California, but he became addicted when he returned to Illinois and started playing in a band. Amachree, who said he has now been sober for 17 years, was smoking crack.
“Drugs became my focus,” he said.
From about 1996 through 2001 Amachree was arrested a number of times for forgery, theft and other misdemeanor charges. He was in and out of custody in Illinois as various charges against him were heard and resulted in convictions.
In 1997 Amachree was arrested for possession of less than 15 grams of cocaine, a class 4 felony in Illinois but a misdemeanor under federal law. The fact that it was a misdemeanor under federal law became significant.
Order for removal
Amachree pleaded guilty to the drug possession charge and was placed on probation. In 2001 he was charged with failure to report to his probation officer and his probation was revoked. He was sentenced to a year in prison with credit for time served.
Upon his release from state prison in 2001, Immigration and Naturalization Services detained Amachree for six months in DeKalb County Jail. The state of Illinois then took custody of Amachree for a possession of drug paraphernalia charge, according to the claim.
Amachree’s criminal charges meant he could face deportation to the country of his birth. An immigration judge in Chicago, however, had allowed Amachree to remain in the U.S. while he completed a drug rehabilitation program through Teen Challenge.
Teen Challenge is a drug and alcohol rehab program with about 200 local residential programs throughout the United States. The faith-based Christian organization serves teens and adults.
According to the claim, “In the meantime, a similar case came before the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). In that case, the BIA concluded that a felony drug conviction under state law required a mandatory removal.”
So the immigration judge ruled Nov. 7, 2002, that Amachree’s deportation was mandatory. After a couple of appeals, Amachree’s attorney at the time sought an emergency stay of the deportation order, and a stay was granted by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on July 14, 2004.
Lost in the system
Meanwhile a similar case was moving through the judicial system and ultimately was reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. In Lopez v. Gonzales, the court had to decide whether “conduct made a felony under state law but a misdemeanor under (Federal) Controlled Substances Act is a ‘felony punishable under the Controlled Substances Act.’” The court ruled it was not.
In Amachree’s case that meant his drug violation, while a felony under state law, was not a felony under federal law that required mandatory deportation. As a result, it was recommended that the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals send Amachree’s case back to the Board of Immigration Appeals. It did so on Feb. 7, 2007, but the BIA did not act upon Amachree’s case for 10 years, for unknown reasons.
After his detention in February 2017, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Chief Counsel Karen Lundgren filed via overnight courier a motion to reschedule Amachree’s case the with the Board of Immigration Appeals. Again no action was taken, and another motion to get the case in front of the Board of Immigration Appeals was filed by Lundgren on July 12, 2017.
The BIA finally acted on Aug. 16, 2017, and remanded the case to immigration court. Amachree’s attorney then filed an emergency motion to get the matter on a court calendar. Amachree’s case was brought before an immigration judge on Sept. 8, 2017, more than six months after he was taken into custody at the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office.
Amachree’s claim states that at the time he was taken into custody, the 2004 order staying his deportation remained in effect. It also states he was never provided information about why he was detained and ICE made no apparent effort to begin the removal process. The claim states, “This apparent lack of effort raises serious questions about why Selepri was arrested and detained in the first place.”
Amachree said he believes he was detained because he has crossed local law enforcement officials with his efforts to provide drug rehabilitation services to people addicted to drugs in Dodge County.
After Amachree completed the Teen Challenge program in Pennsylvania as part of his own drug rehab, he went to a one-year advanced Teen Challenge Ministry Institute and graduated with a certification in “program administration.”
He then had an internship with Teen Challenge and in 2006 founded his own program, which he named XTreme Intervention.
Through his program, Amachree enrolls drug-addicted people into treatment programs, typically Teen Challenge programs outside Wisconsin and drives them to the program. Amachree said clients sign a contract that clearly states the costs of his intervention and specifies the payment does not include any enrollment or other costs for Teen Challenge. Amachree said the intervention is based on a specific curriculum he developed.
Amachree describes his program as a one-on-one intervention and said he often spends months meeting with the person he is helping, gaining their trust and preparing them to succeed before they enroll in a rehab program.
He works with one or two clients at a time and the program, like Teen Challenge, is faith-based.
He said he earns his livelihood through the program, though he also earns money as a studio musician and by selling his own recorded music.
Conflict with local authorities
Amachree has been accused by District Attorney Kurt Klomberg of using the names of other court officials to falsify endorsement of Xtreme Intervention. In an August 2014 hearing for a man involved in a drug case in Dodge County Circuit Court, Amachree’s name came up and Klomberg said he felt it necessary to respond.
According to a transcript from the hearing, Klomberg accused Amachree of profiting off of vulnerable people, using officials’ names without permission to promote his program and “spiriting away” a defendant in a case Klomberg had been prosecuting.
Amachree defends his program, explaining that taking people to out-of-state programs gets them away from the people and places they know and associate with drugs. He insists he had permission to travel with the defendant Klomberg referred to in that hearing.
“I can’t victimize people and can’t victimize families because I have to be an example,” Amachree said. “Integrity is huge to me.”
Amachree said the accusation of using false references stems from an ad he ran July 16, 2014, in the Daily Citizen. The ad had excerpts from an article written for a Nashville publication, which included a reference to working with the Dodge County Treatment Alternatives and Diversion program and said his work was supported by Dodge County Judge Joseph Sciascia.
Sciascia and the TAD program director issued a press release the next day, saying they did not endorse Amachree’s services or program and that he did not have permission to use Sciascia’s name.
Amachree said running the ad was a mistake and that he did not understand he needed permission to use the judge’s name or refer to the TAD program.
“There was no malice (intended),” Amachree said.
The background check by the sheriff’s office revealed that just days before the ad appeared in the Daily Citizen, Klomberg sent Amachree an email stating “You are not trustworthy and I cannot allow you to be involved in the cases of the vulnerable people that are suffering from addiction in our community.” Klomberg also said he did not consent for his name or his office to be used in any way.
Meeting with the sheriff
As part of his Xtreme Intervention program, Amachree said he had been visiting clients in the Dodge County Jail for around six months prior to February 2017.
In early 2017 he went to the jail and was denied entry. He was told he would need to meet with Sheriff Dale Schmidt. It is unclear why a background check had not been conducted earlier when Amachree began his professional visits.
Amachree said he talked to Schmidt and the sheriff told him he would conduct a background check.
“I had no problem with that,” Amachree said, noting that he communicated his position to Schmidt.
The background check was conducted by a former Dodge County Sheriff’s Office detective.
Through an open records request, the Daily Citizen obtained heavily redacted portions of the background check as well as a letter from the sheriff that says Amachree had a long criminal history and there were allegations of a sexual assault against him made by a female client. No charges have ever been filed and Schmidt said in a July 25 email there is no active investigation of Amachree by his department.
Schmidt said three Teen Challenge programs refused to work with Amachree, but the background investigation provided few details about why the organizations had severed ties with him. Amachree said in an interview in July that the disagreement with local Teen Challenge programs was related to money, that the programs believed they were entitled to the funds families provided to him for his services.
On Feb. 9, 2017, Amachree said he got a call from someone at the sheriff’s office asking him to meet with Schmidt on Feb. 27.
It was at that meeting that he was taken into custody.
“When he was invited in, I met with him and my jail staff to explain the results and informed him that he was being denied access based on the investigation that revealed a number of concerning issues,” Schmidt wrote in a July 25 email to the Daily Citizen. “Only my staff was present in the room for this discussion.”
Schmidt said the background investigation revealed that ICE “had business with Mr. Amachree.”
“After we explained that he was being denied access, I told him that there were Federal Law Enforcement Officers who wanted to speak with him and they were at that point allowed to speak with him,” Schmidt said.
When he was taken into custody, Amachree said he asked why he was being arrested and if there was a warrant or deportation order. No documents were ever provided to him, according to Amachree.
He also questions why the arrest took place the way it did.
“Who arrests someone in a room full of people?” Amachree asked. “There was an aspect of humiliation to it.”
Amachree continues to run XTreme Intervention and to work with people in Wisconsin and Dodge County.
When asked why he stays someplace where local authorities object to his work, Amachree said, “This is where my wife is.”
He first came to Dodge County after meeting his wife, Danyelle, on the dating site Christian Mingle. Amachree said their first date was to see the movie “The Vow” at the theater in downtown Beaver Dam. When they married in 2014, Amachree moved here because Danyelle had children enrolled in the Beaver Dam School District.
Amachree said he has come to love the community and wants to continue to provide service to people in the community.
Amachree traveled to California with a man who was enrolled in a rehab program there on July 17.
He said he remains positive and committed to XTreme Intervention.
“When problems arise it becomes an opportunity to find solutions,” Amachree said. “There’s a huge issue with immigration in this country right now.”
He hopes his claim against ICE can be part of the solution.
“A satisfactory outcome of this would be preventing it from happening again,” he said.