Senate committee faults Hodgson for not admitting Chang-Diaz

2 GOP members agree but vote no on report

A SENATE LEGISLATIVE oversight committee says the Bristol County sheriff’s office violated state law and its own policies and procedures when it denied Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz access to an immigration detention center it operates in Dartmouth.

The Boston senator showed up at the facility on May 2, the day after a melee involving immigration detainees, corrections officers, and Sheriff Thomas Hodgson himself, demanding to be let in under a state law granting lawmakers and certain state officials access to state prison facilities. Bristol County rules require compliance with the state law.

Sen. John Keenan of Quincy, who chairs the Senate Post Audit and Oversight Committee, issued a report on the incident Friday evening.

“The Committee urges appropriate action be taken by the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office to ensure compliance and prevent any violations in the future,” read the report. 

Two Republican members of the committee – Ryan Fattman of Sutton and Dean Tran of Fitchburg – agreed the sheriff’s office violated state law but they voted no on the report on the grounds that “judgment regarding the current global health crisis should have prevented this situation from the start.”

Under COVID-19 guidelines, Fattman and Tran said only essential workers should have been out on May 2. “Perhaps this visit was essential, perhaps it was not,” they wrote in an adverse opinion. “Perhaps there were political considerations all around. Irrespective, we feel strongly that ultimately this committee is designed to evaluate decisions, actions, and situations that impact the Commonwealth, and we believe there are a great number of issues worth investigating that would better serve the Commonwealth and the time and ability of this Committee and its members.”

Hodgson, a Republican who headed President Trump’s reelection campaign in Massachusetts, initially declined to comment on the report, although he was critical of Chang-Diaz at a press conference earlier last week, calling her “the most pro-illegal representative in the Senate in Boston.” After publishing, his office sent a statement that included the state law in question at the top, with a part highlighting that the superintendent of a correctional facility can decline entry to anyone if their admission would be “injurious to the best interests of the institution.”

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson.

The post audit findings were the second time in a week Hodgson’s office was faulted in connection with the May 1 violent incident involving immigration detainees who reported symptoms of COVID-19 and refused to be moved to a different wing of the facility and top be tested. Attorney General Maura Healey issued a report on Tuesday concluding that Hodgson’s office violated the civil rights of the detainees when it engaged in an “unnecessary use of force,” including the use of pepper spray and unmuzzled dogs. Three of the detainees were hospitalized and several others in solitary confinement when they should have received medical treatment.

Chang-Diaz showed up at the facility the day after the incident, citing state law and asking to be allowed in to assess the situation. According to the post audit report, she was asked for identification and provided her driver’s license. She initially was denied entry because she was not an attorney and subsequently for failure to provide identification proving she was a state senator. She was then told to go away or face arrest for trespassing.

A write-up on the incident obtained by the post audit committee described the situation as “assist with unruly female visitor.”

In the post audit report, Keenan said no one at the jail tried to confirm the office Chang-Diaz held or her business address before rejecting her.

On May 15, according to the report, Hodgson claimed that the statute requiring admission of state lawmakers to state and county prison facilities doesn’t apply to his immigrant detention facility because the detainees are under the federal jurisdiction of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Keenan said nothing in the agreement between the Bristol County Sheriff’s office and Immigration and Customs Enforcement cedes authority to ICE and the sheriff’s own visitation policy governs visits to the immigration detention center.

“The reasons given by the BCSO for denying entry to Senator Chang-Díaz were not based in established policies or procedures,” Keenan said in the report.

Hodgson runs the C. Carlos Carreiro Immigration Detention Center, and is paid by the federal government to detain immigrants on civil violations.

The county also said that its COVID-19 regulations would not have allowed it to let Chang-Diaz in, but the committee noted that reporters, chaplains, and others had been permitted on the grounds.

“They could have afforded her the opportunity to comply with the COVID-19 pre-screening protocols, but they did not,” Keenan wrote.  He argued that she should have been granted the same opportunity as attorneys, reporters, and clergy who comply with COVID-19 rules.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, 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.

“Her request was rejected for the safety and security of the correctional institution, coupled with the fact that she failed to provide any documents proving she was a member of the General Court,” said Hodgson on Monday.

He said visitation had been suspended at the facility for months prior to keep COVID-19 at bay, and non-essential individuals “such as Sen. Chang-Diaz” would not be allowed to “roam around the jail.” Hodgson said the county doesn’t have “tour guides on our payroll waiting for some member of the Legislature to show up unannounced for a tour.”