Bristol County Sheriff announces released prisoner alert system
Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson announced on April 13 a new “Prisoner Release Alert System” to make members of the public aware of any criminal backgrounds of immigration detainees released from a Dartmouth jail due to coronavirus concerns.
More than 30 Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detainees have already been released from the Faunce Corner Road facility on orders from US District Court Judge William Young due to allegedly unsafe conditions putting them at risk for Covid-19.
Three staff members at the facility have tested positive for Covid-19.
According to the Sheriff’s Office announcement, the history of criminal charges against some of those released by Young include violent offenses like aggravated assault with weapons, rape, domestic violence, robbery, and drug trafficking.
Hodgson stated that he released the list of charges “to help protect the people of Bristol County from potential victimization.”
“My main charge as Sheriff of Bristol County is public safety,” he wrote, adding that law-abiding people “have a right to know who is being released back into their communities.”
Attorney Oren Sellstrom with Lawyers for Civil Rights contended that the Sheriff’s Office Alert System notice “contains false and misleading statements” and that as civil detainees, those held by ICE are not detained for any criminal purpose.
“But for the fact of their immigration status, they would be free,” he noted, adding “The notice serves only to stoke unnecessary fear at a time when communities are coming together.”
Attorney Ira Alkalay, who represents a few of the detainees held in the facility, noted that many of the criminal charges included in Hodgson’s list may have been dismissed or resulted in acquittals. “If [detainees have] been convicted of anything, they’ve done their time or they’d be in state custody, not ICE; and this type of list can include a charge from years ago,” he stated.
“These released people are on house arrest and quarantine,” Alkalay added. “Sheriff Hodgson can manipulate data to try to alarm the community. In fact, the community would be in danger if there is an outbreak of Covid-19 at the ICE facility because the local hospitals would be overwhelmed.”
Sheriff’s Office spokesman Jonathan Darling said that Hodgson published the list of criminal charges because he “felt very strongly that the public has a right to know who these people are.”
“We’re not trying to cause a panic situation,” he added. “We just want to raise awareness in the public of what effect the judge’s orders can have...We’re just asking people to be vigilant out there, to be careful.”
Detainees had previously stopped work and taken civil action against Hodgson and ICE due to allegedly unsafe conditions at the facility. Conditions include bunk beds that are just three feet apart rather than the CDC-recommended six feet of distance to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
One nurse and two staffers at the facility — a correctional officer and a K9 officer — have tested positive for the virus.
The two officers worked their last shifts in late March, and according to the Sheriff’s Office, both are now feeling well.
The nurse tested positive for coronavirus on April 1 after she went home with a low-grade fever on March 25. She had worked an overnight shift at the ICE facility and the women’s center.
On April 11, the Sheriff’s Office also announced the passing of corrections officer Stacey Merkman. Darling confirmed that Merkman did not have Covid-19.