Judge rejects bid to broaden Hodgson deposition

Circumstances of Friday night violence declared off-limits

A FEDERAL JUDGE on Monday rejected demands by lawyers for immigration detainees at the Bristol County Jail to broaden a scheduled deposition of Sheriff Thomas Hodgson to include the circumstances surrounding violence that broke out at the facility on Friday night.

Hodgson was previously scheduled to be deposed on Tuesday morning for up to three hours in an ongoing lawsuit about the release of detainees during the COVID-19 pandemic, due to what attorneys describe as close living conditions and a lack of personal hygiene supplies and medical care at the jail. Lawyers for the detainees filed an emergency motion on Monday to up the questioning to seven hours to delve into what happened at the jail, where violence broke out as Hodgson sought to transfer 10 detainees exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 to the medical unit to be tested.

US District Court Judge William Young, however, denied the request and said the deposition would go on as previously scheduled. In his ruling, Young wrote that the lawyers could ask Hodgson about the current conditions of the detainees. He also said he plans to ask attorneys for the detainees whether he can assume that, because the detainees refused COVID-19 testing, they feared a positive test with the consequences of being quarantined. He will ask Hodgson’s attorneys how many detainees remain on site, where they are being held, under what conditions, and what opportunities they have to intermingle.

The judge’s decision came as Hodgson’s office confirmed one detainee had tested positive for the coronavirus. It was unclear whether the detainee was one of the 10 who resisted being tested or whether it was someone else. Seven staffers and vendors at the jail previously tested positive.

Lawyers for Civil Rights filed the lawsuit in federal court in March against US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Bristol County sheriff’s office, seeking the release of all individuals held in custody for immigration violations who did not have criminal convictions. The suit’s goal was to reduce crowding at the facility during the COVID-19 pandemic. Young has released 48 detainees so far and he is considering the release of 83 more. Hodgson opposes the releases.

On Friday night, violence broke out as Hodgson and his staff tried to test some detainees for COVID-19. Hodgson said he personally confronted the detainees who resisted transfer to the medical unit. Hodgson said the detainees initiated the violence, while the detainees through advocates have suggested the sheriff’s office provoked the incident, which caused $25,000 in damage to the unit.

Lawyers for Civil Rights said it wanted to question the sheriff on why he wanted to test the detainees, why he attempted to grab a phone from a detainee, the current medical and housing conditions of those detainees, and whether the violence was caused by the sheriff in retaliation against the detainees on whose behalf the lawsuit was filed.

Jonathan Darling, a spokesman for Hodgson, said most of what’s in the motion “is untrue or lacks context” and is designed to sway the judge and public opinion. For example, he said, the sheriff wanted to test the detainees because they were exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.

On Monday, US Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and US Reps. Bill Keating and Joe Kennedy wrote to Hodgson asking for an independent investigation into the violence. “There are conflicting accounts about what occurred, and we believe that there must be a full, independent investigation by an external entity,” they wrote.

Darling said Hodgson is open to an independent investigation “as long as it is truly independent and not politically driven.”

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Freelance reporter, Formerly worked for CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Gov. Charlie Baker, asked about the incident at his daily COVID-19 press briefing on Monday, said he had not yet spoken to anyone about the violence although it is “on the to-do list for today.” He cautioned people to be careful about drawing any conclusions based on preliminary reports.

Baker noted that his administration has encountered a number of people at nursing homes and “a bunch of different places” who refuse to get tested for coronavirus. “We’ve had to discipline some people for not being tested in places they should probably be tested,” Baker said. He refused to provide any details about who those people were or where they worked, saying it is a personnel matter. “I think people should embrace testing,” he said.