Widow Sues After Migrant Detainee Dies In Custody
The widow of an undocumented alien who died in a U.S.-operated detention center is appealing a decision that no legal wrongdoing occurred after her husband died. The woman claims that the guards ignored numerous pleas for help after the detainee contracted pneumonia. His pleas went unanswered and the man eventually died of pneumonia.
The detainee had been caught attempting to cross the border and placed in detention while he awaited deportation. Police sought to use the detainee to arrest the smuggler or coyote who was responsible for the transportation. He was granted bail, but he was unable to pay, so he remained in detention. It appears unclear that he will be able to provide the state with the testimony they seemed to need.
The detainee was transferred from one detention center to another and began to develop flu-like symptoms. He saw doctors several times, but none of the doctors noted symptoms of pneumonia. His condition continued to worsen. An attorney representing the detainee told the staff that his client appeared sickly and pale. Days later, a guard alerted medical staff that the detainee was in medical distress. He was taken to a hospital where he died.
Who operates these detention centers?
The detention center where the detainee died was operated by a private company that was sued for failing to render medical assistance. The doctors themselves were government-supplied doctors who, as a matter of law, could not be held liable by a jury. The matter was thus left to the judge. The jury returned a verdict of not-liable on behalf of the defense.
This is becoming a greater issue. Detention centers, prisons, and prison health care providers are increasingly private companies who offer services to the government. In this case, ICE detention centers were operated by private companies.
Under the law, no matter how bad or mean a prisoner is, the state owes them the same duty of care. This is true even for individuals who are not technically citizens. Our tort laws do not discriminate against non-citizens.
The detention center’s defense
The detention center successfully claimed that the detainee had been advised to return to the health clinic if his symptoms worsened. He expressed understanding of this directive but did not act on it as his symptoms worsened. We can’t be sure why he didn’t act on it, but that formed the basis of the detention center’s defense and a jury agreed that they were not liable for the death.
The widow will appeal the verdict, but it remains unclear on what basis. The judge denied the plaintiff’s request to include testimony from a cellmate that would have aided their case. The judge determined that the testimony was not credible. They will likely say this testimony was barred unfairly.
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