Altercation Erupts Over Virus Tests at Mass. Immigrant Detention Facility

The Bristol County sheriff said inmates reporting symptoms of COVID-19 rushed officers, but reports from inmates prompted calls for an independent investigation

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A group of about 10 federal immigration detainees who refused to be tested for the virus that causes COVID-19 caused extensive damage to the center in Dartmouth where they are being held, the sheriff's office said in a Friday night news release.

But Congressman Joe Kennedy, D-Mass., on Saturday morning called for an investigation into what happened in light of reports that the detainees at the C. Carlos Carreiro Immigration Detention Center were assaulted by Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson and some of his officers.

According to a news release from Hodgson, the inmates involved in the incident reported multiple symptoms of COVID-19 and, when told they had to be tested, rushed officers. 

The detainees barricaded themselves inside the facility, ripped washing machines and pipes off the wall, broke windows and "'trashed the entire unit," Hodgson said. A special response team restrained the detainees, the department said, and damage was estimated at $25,000.

No staff injuries were reported. One detainee was hospitalized with "symptoms of a panic attack," another was hospitalized due to a pre-existing condition and a third "for a medical incident after being removed from the ICE wing." All three are expected "to be fine," the sheriff's department said.

Hodgson said the detainees have been moved to single cells pending disciplinary action, COVID-19 testing and criminal charges. 

In a written statement, ICE acting field office director Todd Lyon thanked the facility staff for, "quickly restoring order at risk to their own safety and for protecting other detainees and correctional staff whose safety was put at risk by the hostile actions of this small group of detainees."

But several reports emerged based on inmates' accounts of the altercation that depicted officers as the aggressors.

A pastor with the Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network told Commonwealth Magazine that an inmate told her that Hodgson attacked him over a disagreement about where the inmates would be tested. Advocates told WBUR that the inmates had been pepper-sprayed.

Referring to "conflicting reports," Kennedy on Saturday called for security footage to be released to show what took place.

“Given the conflicting reports coming from all involved, there needs to be an immediate, independent investigation into what occurred last night at the Bristol County House of Corrections," Kennedy said in a statement. "All people held at this facility deserve to be treated with humanity and dignity."

The head of the ACLU of Massachusetts on Saturday echoed the call for an independent investigation and urged Gov. Charlie Baker to provide universal testing for Massachusetts' prison detention facilities.

"The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has an obligation to ensure basic human rights of people it holds in detention. During this time of pandemic infection, the state should allow people to safely self-isolate by releasing them or arranging for home confinement," Carol Rose said in a statement.

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