Judge Orders Bristol Sheriff to Test Detainees for Coronavirus

A federal judge ordered coronavirus testing for detainees and staff at Bristol County Jail and barred any new detainees from being admitted to the facility

All immigrant detainees and staff in Bristol County Jail must get tested for the coronavirus, a federal judge ruled, just days after an altercation over testing in the facility.

U.S. District Court Judge William Young found that the Bristol County Sheriff and ICE "likely have acted unconstitutionally and shown deliberate indifference to the substantial risk of serious harm," posed by coronavirus, according to attorney Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, director of Lawyer for Civil Rights, which initiated the class action lawsuit back in March.

The judge ordered coronavirus tests for all detainees and staff at Bristol County having any contact with immigrant detainees as soon as possible, at ICE’s expense. Young also demanded that no new detainees be admitted to the immigration detention at Bristol County, effective immediately.

The court pointed to BCHOC’s failure to conduct comprehensive testing or contact tracing, and its refusal to voluntarily consider release of any detainees. To date, the class action has resulted in the release of 50 detainees, according to Espinoza-Madrigal.

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson took to Twitter Monday, posting a lengthy statement disagreeing with the judge and calling on the Justice Department to seek an emergency stay of the order and appeal the decision in the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

"The actions brought my immigrant activist groups targeting the Bristol County ICE Detention Center and other such ICE detention centers across the county are purely an attempt to attack immigration policy and seek the release of all persons ordered by the Immigration Courts to be deported," Hodgson wrote.

Hodgson argued that Young overlooked safety measures in place including regular employee temperature screenings and questioning before shifts, isolation and testing for anyone with coronavirus symptoms and a three-times daily sensitization schedule of the facility.

"Bristol County and ICE strongly believe that this judge's order has far exceeded his authority and that his order directing staff to undergo invasive and unnecessary testing in order to keep their jobs is unconstitutional and plainly not right," Hodgson wrote.

The ruling comes days after the sheriff's office claimed that a group of about 10 federal immigration detainees refused to be tested for the coronavirus.

According to a news release from Hodgson last week, 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.

The state's Attorney General and the Senate Post Audit and Oversight Committee are now investigating the latest incident.

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