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ACLU report: Medical neglect at Aurora ICE facility led to 2 deaths, violates 'basic human rights'

Posted at 12:40 PM, Sep 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-18 17:09:06-04

AURORA, Colo. – The ACLU of Colorado on Wednesday released a lengthy report detailing allegations of abuse and neglect at an Aurora immigration detention center, accusing the facility's actions of leading to the deaths of two people in custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The ACLU report, "Cashing in on Cruelty," accused the facility – which is operated by the private prison company The GEO Group – of violating "basic human rights" through inadequate health care practices and not providing accommodations for detainees with disabilities.

The ICE facility, which holds about 1,500 detainees, has faced intense criticism for months from ACLU and other immigration activists. During one rally outside the facility in July, protesters replaced the building's U.S. flag with a Mexican flag. Protesters this week announced that they planned to rally outside the home of the facility's warden.

The ACLU report Wednesday detailed the deaths of two former detainees: Kamyar Samimi, a 64-year-old man who died in 2017, and Evalin-Ali Mandza, a 46-year-old man who died of a heart attack at the facility in 2012.

ICE spokeswoman Alethea Smock, in a statement Wednesday, said the Aurora facility "is a humane, clean and professionally run detention center that was most recently-inspected in October by an independent third-party inspector."

Smock said the inspection found the facility to be compliant in all 41 areas that were inspected, including security, detainee rights, medical care and safety.

"The ACLU’s allegations simply are not substantiated by numerous other inspections that have found the facility to operate fully in compliance with federal law and agency policy," Smock said.

The GEO Group had not yet responded to Denver7's request for comment, but spokesman Pablo Paez told the Denver Post: “We recognize that the ACLU has a political position generally against public-private partnerships. … It’s not surprising its report would only confirm their political position.”

In Samimi's death, the ACLU alleged that doctors at the facility cut off Samimi's prescription of methadone, which he had taken daily for 20 years to manage chronic back pain, leading to withdrawals while he was in custody in November 2017. At one point, Samimi called a friend and told him he was "sicker than hell" and "dying here," the ACLU report said.

Samimi, a 40-year resident of the U.S., was taken to a hospital, where he died of cardiac arrest, two weeks after he was initially taken into ICE custody. An autopsy report indicated that Samimi's cardiac arrest may have been linked to a methadone withdrawal.

Samimi was a permanent resident but his conviction on possession of cocaine in Arapahoe County in 2005 made him eligible to be removed from the U.S., ICE said.

“That decision [to cut off Samimi's methadone] was medically unjustifiable, yet none of the internal investigations and reviews ACLU obtained through FOIA raise even a single question about the physician’s role in precipitating the ugly and ultimately fatal consequences that ensued," Mark Silverstein, the ACLU of Colorado's legal director, said in a statement.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit seeking records to Samimi's arrest and death. The lawsuit is still pending.

In Mandza's death, the report alleged that officials at the ICE facility a nurse "fumbled with an electrocardiogram machine" while tending to Mandza and that the nurse wasn't trained to interpret the EKG readings. As a result, the report said, Mandza wasn't sent to a hospital until an hour later. He suffered cardiac arrest and died at the hospital.

A Department of Human Services review of Mandza's death found that he "did not have access to appropriate medical care while detained" at the Aurora facility, the ACLU report said.

The report cited several other allegations of medical neglect: One detainee had his leg amputated "after staff ignored his repeated complaints about bedsores," the report said; another suffered head injuries in an attack by other detainees, but his injuries allegedly went untreated.

In one example of the alleged medical neglect, the report said, a woman with a toothache had requested to see a dentist several times but wasn't taken. The pain of the toothache got so bad, the report said, the woman pulled the tooth and other women detained in pod helped clean her up.

The report also detailed the cases of mumps at the facility in February, when 271 detainees were quarantined.

"This cruelty must end," the report said. "One tool is improvements to state and local policy, including increased oversight of [the Aurora ICE facility], decreased cooperation with ICE and funding for legal counsel and bond money for detainees. We have the power to ensure that the death of Kamyar Samimi, and the suffering by too many others, is not in vain."