An altercation over coronavirus tests broke out between federal immigration detainees and officers at a detention center in Massachusetts, ending with three detainees sent to a hospital and $25,000 in damage to the center, authorities said.
The incident Friday at the C. Carlos Carreiro Immigration Detention Center in Bristol County also sparked calls for an investigation of what occurred.
Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson said Friday that 10 ICE detainees refused to go to the center's medical unit for testing for coronavirus after "each reported having at least two symptoms of COVID-19."
"The health care professionals told me they had to be tested in the medical unit because of the reported symptoms. The detainees refused to go into the medical unit for testing," said Hodgson in a statement. "The detainees refused to comply, became combatant and ultimately put the lives of themselves and many Bristol County officers at risk with their reckless actions."
Hodgson said that detainees caused extensive damage to the center after breaking windows and ripping washing machines and pipes off the walls. The detainees have been moved to single cells pending disciplinary action, COVID-19 testing and criminal charges, he said, adding that damages are estimated at $25,000.
Three detainees were taken to a hospital after the altercation. One 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 recover, officials said. No staff injuries were reported.
The Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network, an immigrant advocacy group, said it received a call Friday evening from a detainee who said, "the sheriff approached me violently, grabbed my arm and scratched me, police came with pepper spray, spraying in everyone’s face and spraying in my mouth, and I suffer asthma."
"They want to take us to the other unit to be tested. We don’t want to go on the other unit for cross contamination. We want to be tested, but not moved," the detainee said, according to the group.
The Connecticut Bail Fund, another advocacy organization, shared a written declaration of a woman whose brother was at the detention center at the time of the altercation.
In the declaration, which is written in Spanish, she said she received a phone call from her brother, who is at Bristol detained by ICE, at 6:16 p.m. Friday.
"We are in trouble here. I need you to help me!" the man said, according to the written declaration. "They came to throw pepper spray because we did not want to sign a paper that says that everything is okay with the conditions in here, even though that is not true."
"Law enforcement officials started breaking glass, so they could blame us for causing a disturbance. There were more people outside with dogs," the declaration reads.
The sheriff's confirmed on Friday it used security, special response teams and the K9 unit to "restrain detainees" — adding that detainees "rushed violently at Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson and corrections officers."
Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, is calling for an independent investigation after receiving "deeply disturbing" reports on the incident.
"Matters like these require transparency in order to ensure trust in government during a pandemic," she said in a written statement. "That is particularly true where the leader of that institution has been accused of personal misconduct during the incident."
Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass., tweeted that he is "closely monitoring the treatment of detainees at Bristol County House of Corrections" and also called for an independent investigation into what happened.
"All people held at this facility deserve to be treated with humanity and dignity. We need an independent investigation and the release of surveillance footage to ascertain exactly what happened and ensure accountability," Kennedy said.
ICE did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday. However, Hodgson said in a press conference Saturday that ICE is investigating the incident.