Updated at 3:16 p.m. ET
One night in the fall of 2017, four Jamaican fishermen set out into the Caribbean from the village of Half Moon Bay. As a lawsuit filed today describes it, their quest for tuna and snapper was supposed to last about two days. Then they disappeared.
Five weeks later, those men—Robert Dexter Weir, Patrick Wayne Ferguson, Luther Fian Patterson, and David Roderick Williams—reemerged in Miami, covered in burns and blisters, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. United States 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 U.S. to face trial, alleges the ACLU, which is suing the Coast Guard on the men’s behalf. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. and international law and treats detainees humanely. In an emailed statement, Coast Guard spokesman Lieutenant Commander Scott McBride also said that the agency’s officers saw the men get rid of numerous packages of marijuana, and that the officers later recovered some 600 pounds of the drug.