LA WEEKLY: Director Duncan Roy casts a courtly image of a baronial figure as he sits in his home atop Las Flores Canyon, a modernist, Bohemian hideaway with a jaw-dropping view of the Pacific. His surroundings project an image of California's creative lifestyle at its most alluring. But in February, Roy found himself standing alone outside Los Angeles County Men's Central Jail, released after three months of harrowing and wrongful incarceration.
During his ordeal, he learned to dodge angry Los Angeles County Sheriff's jailers and to trade with fellow prisoners for dried ramen toppings. He was helplessly trapped in a Kafka-esque corner of America's immigration war, where he disappeared into the bowels of the system without explanation or apparent legal recourse.
In 2006, Roy was an up-and-coming star of the British independent-film community. His first picture, AKA, had received notice and awards around the world, and he followed the well-worn path to Hollywood in search of a bigger canvas — in particular, a film adaptation of The Picture ofDorian Gray, to which he was attached to direct. He purchased the Las Flores house with the help of his then-boyfriend, a Malibu real estate agent who later would be featured on Bravo's Million Dollar Listing.
Five years later, the dream had fizzled. The relationship with his partner had ended. The Dorian Gray film hadn't materialized. Roy even sought counsel from Dr. Drew on his show Sex Rehab, where the director's outspoken manner made him a reality-TV cause célèbre. A bout with cancer led to the removal of one of Roy's testicles. With his visa due to expire in December 2011, he prepared a move to his apartment in Berlin.
But in Los Angeles, the most tangled dramas ultimately come back to real estate. Selling the house was proving thorny. Once it was on the market, geological issues arose, dramatically lowering its value. Then, Roy says, he received a middle-of-the-night phone call from someone claiming to be the geologist who had worked on the house's assessment. He told Roy that he had been pressured to cover up problems in the foundation but, having become a born-again Christian, felt obliged to come clean.
Roy called his ex-boyfriend and, Roy recalls, "I said, 'You've conned me out of $500,000, and why don't you take the house back? I'll give you the house back for $500,000 — or I could just blog about what you've done to me.' I threatened to blog about him."
Thus began Roy's trip into the twilight zone.
The next day, Nov. 17, he got a call from a Sheriff's Department deputy asking for a meeting. His former lover is an influential figure in Malibu, and Roy briefly "wondered if it was a setup," but he met the deputy at Country Kitchen on Pacific Coast Highway. He was stunned when the deputy arrested him for "extortion," and took him to the Sheriff's station at Hidden Hills, the same facility whose deputies gained infamy in the disappearance and accidental death of Mitrice Richardson in Malibu Canyon. Roy was booked, fingerprinted, questioned and placed in a cell. (His ex-boyfriend did not respond to the Weekly's requests for comment.)
Roy viewed his arrest as an overreaction, which was sure to be cleared up soon. He was offered release on bail. But then something happened. The deputies told Roy's bondsmen they could not accept his bail or release him because he had been placed on an "immigration hold."
Such holds begin with a notification from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency(ICE) to local law enforcement. The Sheriff's Department is a partner in the federal Secure Communities program, which is aimed at removing "dangerous criminal aliens" from the United States. When Roy, a legal resident of the United States, was fingerprinted, his data were forwarded to ICE, which issued the surprising "hold" notice.
This is where things get murky. By ICE's protocol, its "hold" is merely a 48-hour restraint. Local authorities are essentially told that if somebody is about to go free on bail, they should hold them briefly until ICE can pick them up — at which time ICE will determine whether or not they should be deported.
Sheriff Lee Baca, however, takes a different view, classifying an ICE hold like an outstanding warrant for arrest, and uses that technicality to refuse to release such people on bail. The department's spokesman, Steve Whitmore, says Baca is not happy with the broad net cast by Secure Communities, but nevertheless, "If a legitimate agency puts a hold on an individual, we need to respond to that. It is not our practice to ignore a legitimate law enforcement request."
As a result, when ICE requests that a person granted bail be held briefly until ICE can pick them up, the Sheriff's Department interprets this as allowing deputies to ignore court orders granting bail.
This was the never-ending Möbius strip Duncan Roy suddenly found himself on.
He says he spent the first night in a cold holding cell with no blanket, while his attorney, bail bondsman and an immigration lawyer tried to find out why the hold had been placed, who could lift it or how to persuade the Sheriff to release Roy pending some sort of review.