Newark cops arrested a Brazilian woman in August 2017 after a retired deputy chief notified the “sanctuary city” that she had an immigration warrant, allegedly to help her estranged husband in a domestic violence case, according to a lawsuit.
Looking to counter the Trump administration’s hardline approach to unauthorized immigration, Mayor Ras Baraka declared Newark a sanctuary city on June 19, 2017; however, it seems like some in the Newark Police Division (NPD) didn’t get the memo.
According to a lawsuit that’s landed in federal court, two months after Baraka signed an executive order strengthening “protocols and protections that the city provides to undocumented immigrants,” Andrea Florentino, a Brazilian citizen, was arrested by Newark cops for an open deportation warrant from 2005.
The lawsuit claims “there’s no dispute” that Dominick Saldida, a retired NPD deputy chief now working as the public safety director in East Orange, NJ, was the person who notified police about the immigration warrant. Additionally, it’s alleged that Saldida called Newark police on behalf of Florentino’s estranged husband, Frank Aiello, three days before Florentino was supposed to testify against Aiello in a criminal proceeding arising from domestic violence.
The City of Newark and the attorney representing Saldida did not respond to requests for comment on this story. This article will be updated if/when comment is provided by the aforementioned parties, both of which are named as defendants in the lawsuit. Real Garden State was unable to contact Aiello, who is not named as a defendant.
“Ms. Florentino was victimized as a result of Trump era anti-immigrant policies by two local officers who unlawfully took on the role of I.C.E. agents to make the arrest,” Andrea N. Mazzula-Adames, the attorney representing the plaintiff in the lawsuit, said in a statement provided to Real Garden State. “On the day of her unlawful arrest, Ms. Florentino was assaulted and dragged out of her home in the early morning hours leaving her three minor daughters in shock, afraid and unsupervised.”
Lawsuit details ‘Immigrant Nightmare’ in ‘Sanctuary City’
On August 29, 2017, around 6:45 AM, NPD Lt. John Rodrigues & Det. Rafael Ramos, in plainclothes, got Florentino to open her door under false pretenses and then “forced themselves inside her apartment, assaulted her and placed her in handcuffs,” according to details from the lawsuit. She claims Rodrigues & Ramos didn’t identify themselves as cops, failed to show a warrant for her arrest, and placed her in the back of an unmarked police vehicle – which led the plaintiff to believe “she was being abducted at the request of her estranged husband.”
Furthermore, it’s alleged that the officers left Florentino’s three daughters – ages 3, 10, and 14 – unsupervised in her apartment following the arrest. It’s also alleged that, while transporting her to the precinct, Rodrigues & Ramos said things like “I love Trump” and “you can thank Trump.” When inside the precinct, despite Newark’s sanctuary status, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer “arrived and cuffed the plaintiff’s hands and feet,” according to the complaint.
Shortly thereafter, Rodrigues & Ramos transported Florentino to an immigration holding facility where she was apparently held for several hours. The lawsuit claims she was eventually offered an ultimatum – remain in custody until her immigration status was determined or be released with an ankle bracelet. Florentino says she choose the latter, after being in custody for over 8-9 hours, in order to get back home to her daughters.
The lawsuit claims the woman was forced to wear the ankle bracelet for 6 months, “affecting her ability to remain gainfully employed during that time.” As well, it’s stated that Rodrigues & Ramos were, in fact, found to have violated the Newark Police Department’s rules and regulations due to their actions, but there’s no further details regarding actual charges & discipline.
Of note, the lawsuit contradicts at least two claims from the arrest report submitted by Rodrigues on August 29, 2017. The lieutenant stated in their report that 1) Florentino’s kids were left in the care of another woman with Florentino’s consent and 2) Florentino was alerted about the immigration warrant when the officers knocked on her door.
Estranged husband’s criminal case
The lawsuit claims that prior to the date of the arrest, Aiello’s lawyer, who is not identified, “contacted a friend of [Florentino] to threaten her with deportation if she did not dismiss the domestic violence action.”
According to court records, on February 1, 2017, Aiello was arrested by Newark cops and charged with Simple Assault (N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1A). On March 13, 2017, the charge was downgraded to Disorderly Conduct (N.J.S.A. 2c:33-2a) and remanded to municipal court, according to a spokesperson for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.
On October 12, 2017, Aiello pleaded guilty to the Disorderly Conduct charge in Newark Municipal Court. He was sentenced to 17 days in jail (time served) and one year of probation, per court records.
Dominick Saldida notified cops of ICE warrant
Perhaps the most newsworthy allegation within the lawsuit is that Florentino’s arrest was “initiated based solely” on a phone call, supposedly made on behalf of Aiello, by Dominick Saldida – a retired NPD deputy chief now working as the public safety director in East Orange, NJ.
Although no allegations of payments are made in the lawsuit, Saldida’s personal business, BluLine Security Consulting LLC, is named as a defendant in the lawsuit. The business is identified as The BluLine Group on Saldida’s LinkedIn page and was launched in February 2017.
Moreover, after retiring from Newark in 2015, Saldida served as public safety director in Dover, NJ, for about 7 months. According to a Daily Record report, Saldida was told he could not continue his private consulting business (similarly named) while employed by Dover, though, it’s unknown if that was a contributing factor to his departure.
Saldida has been serving as public safety director in East Orange since the beginning of 2019. Ironically, in November 2018, a month before Saldida took the job, Newark and East Orange created a “border patrol” to tackle crime near the boundaries of the Essex County neighbors, according to Patch.
A voicemail left with the City of East Orange’s press spokesperson asking whether the city was aware of the lawsuit was not answered.
Finally, the lawsuit, which was originally filed in Essex County Superior Court on August 28, 2019, but has since been moved to the U.S. District Court of New Jersey, “seeks an award of compensatory, statutory and punitive damages as well as an award of attorney’s fees and costs based on the civil rights violations arising from Plaintiff Andrea Florentino’s illegal arrest.”