Legal skirmishing continues at Bristol County Jail
Lelling, legal advocates spar over immigration detainees
EVEN AS COVID-19 deaths and infections are declining across Massachusetts, legal skirmishing is continuing at the Bristol County Jail over the safety of federal immigration detainees.
Legal advocates for some of the detainees say their clients have been held too long in single cells, segregated from other detainees, in violation of the Criminal Justice Reform Act of 2018. The detainees were sent to the single cells after a violent incident on May 1 at the facility that caused an estimated $25,000 worth of damage. Three investigations into what happened are ongoing.
Lizz Matos, the director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, and staff attorney Mario Paredes said that prisoners are being denied outgoing calls to attorneys, have no access to their legal materials, and have limited access to medical and mental health services.
Matos and Paredes raised their concerns in a letter to Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson and Todd Lyons, the acting field director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Both declined comment.
Lelling and ICE attorney Thomas Kanwit wrote in their motion that all detainees have been tested, and only one tested positive. According to a Hodgson spokesman, eight detainees refused to be tested and, per the judge’s order, are being held in single cells and treated as if they are infected.
Lelling and Kanwit said testing of staff should be halted. They said the cost is around $200 per staff member, and that the overall cost would be at least $120,000. “Given that the testing represents merely a ‘snapshot’ in time, that is a lot of money for not a lot of benefit,” they wrote.
Oren Nimni, a spokesman for Lawyers for Civil Rights, which is representing the ICE detainees in the class action lawsuit, said that staff should continue to be tested because they walk in and out of the facility often and could be bringing the virus in.
Lelling’s motion also seeks to halt the release of any additional ICE detainees. “The released detainees included persons with multiple firearms convictions, convictions for trafficking in crack cocaine, and extensive history of violent crime, including assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and assaults/threats against women,” said Lelling’s motion.There is no evidence that any crimes have been committed by those released.
About 15 detainees at the jail have been transferred to other ICE facilities around the country since the May 1 incident. One of those moved was Abdoulaye Sall, who is appealing his deportation order to West Africa and was transferred to an ICE facility in Texas on Monday.His wife, Yascaira Sall, said her husband was one of the detainees in the unit where the violence occurred on May 1. She said her husband was pepper-sprayed and kicked in the face during the altercation and was unable to call her for a week after the incident. She said he tested negative for COVID-19.
“I didn’t know if he was alive or dead,” she said. “In Texas, he’s pleased with how they’re treating detainees. Everything is being cleaned on a regular basis, and detainees have access to resources, like computers for their cases.”