May 06, 2020

Warren, Markey, Keating, Kennedy, Colleagues Seek Federal Investigation of Violent Incident at Bristol County Jail

Massachusetts Delegation, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Members Seek Impartial Probe of Altercation Between Immigration Detainees and Staff

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA), along with Representatives William Keating (D-MA-09) and Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-MA-04), led their colleagues in writing to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) and Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL), requesting an investigation of a violent incident involving persons in immigration detention last week at the Bristol County House of Correction in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts.

Joining the lawmakers in sending the letter are the rest of the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation: Representatives James P. McGovern (D-MA-02), Katherine Clark (D-MA-05), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-07), Seth Moulton (D-MA-06), Lori Trahan (D-MA-03), Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA-08), and Richard E. Neal (D-MA-01). Also joining the letter were several members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, including Chairman Joaquin Castro (D-TX) and Representatives Jesús G. "Chuy" García (D-IL), Juan Vargas (D-CA), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY). 

"There are conflicting accounts about what occurred, and both parties have leveled serious accusations of assault," the lawmakers wrote to the two DHS offices. "We write to you to seek clarity regarding the nature of this troubling incident."

On Friday, May 1, the Bristol County House of Correction's C. Carlos Carreiro Immigration Detention Center, Unit B, was the scene of a violent altercation between personnel of the Bristol County Sheriff's Office and individuals whom the Sheriff's office detains on behalf of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Attorneys for immigrant detainees at the facility say the incident began after detainees-who had previously expressed concerns about contracting COVID-19 given the conditions in the facility-objected to being moved outside of Unit B for testing, and were then handled violently, unnecessarily pepper-sprayed, and denied access to counsel.

The Bristol County Sheriff's Office offers a different account, claiming that the ICE detainees refused to be tested for COVID-19 altogether, and that they were symptomatic and could not remain where they were because they posed a risk to others. The Sheriff's Office also claims the detainees "rushed violently at" Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson and corrections officers, "barricaded themselves inside the facility," and "trashed the entire unit," causing $25,000 worth of damage. 

The lawmakers' letter asks both DHS OIG and CRCL to investigate the incident's causes, whether the Bristol County Sheriff's Office has complied with its contract with ICE, and whether attorneys were denied access to their detained clients after the incident, among other things.

"Given the seriousness of the reports about this altercation, we ask you to quickly undertake an investigation into the May 1 incident, and the circumstances leading to it," the lawmakers continued.

On Sunday, May 3, Senators Warren and Markey and Representatives Keating and Kennedy informed Sheriff Hodgson of their intention to request a full, independent investigation, asked him to preserve the video recordings that relate to the May 1 events, and urged him to ensure that persons detained at the facility could speak with their attorneys immediately.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has also begun an investigation into the incident, and so has the Massachusetts Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight.