Former ICE detainees sue sheriff's office, federal agencies

Jul 27, 2022

A group of former immigration detainees at the Bristol County House of Correction are suing Sheriff Thomas Hodgson and two federal agencies over the use of excessive force during a 2020 altercation at the jail.

Along with Hodgson, defendants include the jail’s Superintendent Steven Souza, the federal Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and ICE New England Director Todd Lyons.

In the lawsuit, the 16 former detainees claim their fifth and eighth amendment rights were violated, as they were denied due process and subjected to cruel and unusual punishments.

The plaintiffs are seeking compensation and punitive damages along with attorneys’ fees, according to the civil complaint, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Boston in April.

Hodgson called the lawsuit “frivolous” and said it had no merit.

“We will vigorously defend it and we will prevail,” he said.

Hodgson claimed that the federal lawsuit is a “political attack” against him ahead of this year’s election.

The federal lawsuit comes more than one year after the Department of Homeland Security terminated its contract with the Dartmouth jail over concerns that detainees’ civil rights were violated, something Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy ruled was the case in December 2020.

The plaintiffs also allege that the sheriff and his officers violated the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, committed assault and battery against detainees and neglected to maintain the facility.

In her report, Healey found that Hodgson and his staff violated their own internal policies and protocols around de-escalation and the use of canine units.

The report states that staff deployed pepper spray, extended-range batons, and flash bang grenades against detainees.

The sheriff says that the tactics used were “by-the-book” and were necessary in order to regain control of the ICE facility, which he claimed the detainees started.

According to the AG’s report, the altercation began when Sheriff Hodgson and several officers entered the ICE facility to speak with detainees about their refusal to get tested for Covid-19.

Ten federal detainees had refused to consent to Covid testing and isolation due to fears they would be exposed to the virus in the quarantine units, the report stated. The quarantine units served the entire jail population, including individuals who had recently arrived from outside.

Hodgson then struggled with one of the detainees, which set off the larger confrontation that resulted in $25,000 worth of damage to the now closed facility.

As a result of the incident, three of the detainees were hospitalized. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs say that they continue to experience both mental and physical issues caused by the May 2020 altercation.

“All plaintiffs who suffered the brunt of this attack sustained a series of serious physical injuries and psychological effects, including severe chest pains, limited mobility, and extensive anxiety and depression which has seriously affected their lives and livelihoods,” the lawsuit read.

Meanwhile, Hodgson claims that he sustained the only injury that day after someone allegedly hit him with a chair — an incident not shown in surveillance videos, per Healey.

The May 2020 incident remains under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security.