Two attorneys representing ICE detainees involved in a violent altercation with corrections officers in Massachusetts said they suspect the officers were retaliating for a class action suit.
An altercation over coronavirus tests broke out at the at the C. Carlos Carreiro Immigration Detention Center in Bristol County on Friday, after 10 ICE detainees and 15 other detainees reported Covid-19 symptoms but refused to get tested, officials said. Their lawyers said their clients refused testing for fear of exposure to the virus.
According to the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, the detainees “rushed violently at Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson and corrections officers, barricaded themselves inside the facility, ripped washing machines and pipes off the wall, broke windows and trashed the entire unit.”
Pepper spray was used to break up the incident, ICE said in a statement. No officers were injured, but three detainees were taken to a hospital.
Jonathan Darling, a spokesman for the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office – which runs the detention center where the clash occurred – blasted the lawyers’ suggestion of payback.
“Retaliation? That’s absurd,” Darling said. “They trashed the place and attacked officers. All part of the misinformation campaign these lawyers are spreading. It’s shameful.”
The lawsuit, filed in March on behalf of all ICE detainees in Bristol County, asked the court to determine whether their detention was unlawful, and demanded the immediate release of the ICE detainees along with implementation of proper protocols to limit the spread of Covid-19 in the facility.
“When we filed the lawsuit, we were receiving alarming reports from detainees that they had no soap, no disinfectant, no sanitizer, and that guards were showing up to the facility with symptoms,” said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR). “And so it was a tinderbox waiting to be lit with Covid-19.”
The suit, filed in federal court in Massachusetts, named Hodgson, County House of Corrections Superintendent Steven Souza, Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, and various ICE officials as defendants, according to the copy provided by lawyers.
To date, the class action has resulted in the humanitarian release of over 40 civil immigration detainees, according to lawyers and the sheriff’s office.
Fear of the virus
LCR Litigation Director Oren Sellstrom said their clients told them the corrections officers at the facility didn’t always wear the required protective equipment to prevent Covid-19 infection. Espinoza-Madrigal also said their clients told them they hadn’t been provided with masks.
Darling disputed that claim, saying all prisoners at the facility are required to wear masks and have soap. The facilities are “cleaned every shift every day.”
Fifteen detainees who reported Covid-19 symptoms or were in close contact with symptomatic individuals all tested negative, Darling said. So far, he said there have been no positive Covid-19 cases among the incarcerated population.
Ten staff members have tested positive, he said. Six are out, and expected to be back soon, and four have already recovered and returned to duty.
Espinoza-Madrigal said the medical status of the three detainees hospitalized at St. Luke’s in New Bedford after Friday’s clash was unknown. He didn’t know whether the seven other detainees involved in the altercation with officers were currently housed in the facility’s medical unit or if they had been tested.
Charges may be filed, sheriff says
At a press conference on Saturday, Sheriff Hodgson said that the office would be reviewing tapes of the incident with plans to file charges, in addition to any potential state investigation.
Hodgson also sharply criticized Rep. Joe Kennedy III, who called for an independent investigation and the release of surveillance footage of the incident.
“America’s sheriffs are done with these people in Congress who spend all their time using issues like this for their political advantage. And Joe Kennedy ought to be ashamed of himself,” said Hodgson. “He may be running for Senate, but you don’t play games with my staff’s lives and the lives of the people we’re charged with, using it for your political gain.”
ICE will review incident
ICE said it is reviewing the Friday incident, during which facility staff eventually used pepper spray to stop the detainees, according to the agency.
The use of pepper spray was “consistent with agency protocol,” ICE said. After it was used, “the detainees became compliant and facility staff was able to restore order in the facility.”
Three detainees were taken to a hospital after the incident, one for symptoms of a panic attack, another for a preexisting condition, and a third “for a medical incident after being removed from the unit,” ICE said.
All three are expected to be fine, according to the sheriff’s office. No facility staff were injured, ICE said.
The detainees caused more than $25,000 in damages to the facility, according to the sheriff’s office.
Espinoza-Madrigal said attorneys have not been able to contact detainees since the Friday incident.
The ACLU of Massachusetts and other advocates for the detainees have called for an independent investigation of Friday’s events.
“These reports are deeply disturbing,” Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said in a statement. “We are concerned for our clients, and everyone detained in the Bristol County House of Correction and ICE detention.”
CNN’s Rob Frehse contributed to this report.