The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) today announced that it will be suing the United States Coast Guard on behalf of four Jamaican fishermen who were held for five weeks in 2017 on suspicion of smuggling marijuana.
The Atlantic reported that according to the lawsuit filed today, the men, Robert Dexter Weir, Patrick Wayne Ferguson, Luther Fian Patterson, and David Roderick Williams went missing after setting out for sea from the village of half Moon Bay.
However, their quest for tuna and snapper was supposed to last about two days. Then they disappeared, the lawsuit said.
Five weeks later the men re-emerged in Miami, covered in burns and blisters, according to ACLU.
The union alleges that the US Coast Guard officers had snatched them off their boat on suspicion of marijuana smuggling, then held them at sea for more than a month, shuffling them among various vessels en route to the US to face trial.
The ACLU claims that Coast Guard officers chained the fishermen up on decks exposed to the elements—even while sailing straight through Hurricane Maria—fed them little, and denied them contact with their loved ones.
When they finally reached a US courtroom, they were never convicted of a drug crime, since the ACLU says no drugs were ever found on the boat; they pleaded guilty to lying to investigators because, according to the suit, their attorney told them it was the fastest way to get home.
The Coast Guard said it had not been served with the complaint and could not comment on ongoing litigation, but said the Coast Guard complies with US and international law and treats detainees humanely.
The ACLU argues that indefinite detentions of the kind it says its clients suffered are inhumane and illegal.