ICE terminates agreement with Dartmouth jail

May 20, 2021

This story has been updated to include comments from Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson.

The Department of Homeland Security announced May 20 that Immigration and Customs Enforcement will immediately terminate its contract with the Bristol County House of Correction and transfer any of the facility’s remaining detainees.

The decision comes as the agency investigates the Sheriff’s Office for its role in an incident on May 1, 2020 that left three detainees in the hospital.

In a memo to Acting ICE Director Tae Johnson, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas wrote, “Allow me to state one foundational principle: we will not tolerate the mistreatment of individuals in civil immigration detention or substandard conditions of detention.”

According to the DHS statement, the agency will preserve all evidence for ongoing investigations, relocate ICE personnel, and transfer all remaining non-citizens “whose continued detention remains necessary”.

“We have an obligation to make lasting improvements to our civil immigration detention system,” Mayorkas said. “DHS detention facilities and the treatment of individuals in those facilities will be held to our health and safety standards. Where we discover they fall short, we will continue to take action as we are doing today.”     

In December, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey found that the Sheriff’s Office violated detainees’ civil rights in using excessive force during the May 1 altercation at the Faunce Corner Road facility.

According to the Attorney General’s Office report, Bristol County officers responded with “excessive and disproportionate” force, including the use of “so much pepper spray...that two detainees were taken to the hospital with symptoms of respiratory distress.”

At a Dec. 16 press conference, Sheriff Thomas Hodgson said that any force used against the detainees was justified. He alleged that many of the detainees were dangerous and violent — claiming that some had makeshift weapons in their hands.

Healey had previously called on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to terminate all contracts with the BCHOC "as expeditiously as possible."

“We commend DHS for ending its partnership with the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, which has a long history of abuse and neglect of immigration detainees,” Healey said on May 20. “This decision under the Biden Administration ensures that the civil rights of immigrants are protected and not violated in a callous disregard for human life and dignity.”

In a statement, Hodgson criticized the federal government’s decision, saying that it was “nothing but a political hit job orchestrated by Sec. Mayorkas, the Biden administration and other anti-law enforcement groups” and that it puts the people of Bristol County, Massachusetts and the United States “at greater risk of being victimized by criminal illegal aliens.”

“While Sec. Mayorkas and the Biden administration are turning their backs on the people of Bristol County and our great nation, I will not,” the sheriff said.

Activist groups and elected officials praised the announcement. 

U.S. Rep. Bill Keating tweeted his thanks to the Biden administration, adding that the sheriff’s treatment of detainees “is a disgrace and a regional embarrassment.”

Rafael Pizarro of Bristol County for Correctional Justice agreed. 

“We’re delighted to see ICE implement the Attorney General’s recommendations,” he said. “As the Attorney General found, the sheriff is incapable of running a detention center humanely.”

Carol Rose, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said in a statement that the end of ICE contracts with the Sheriff’s Office is “a long overdue and critical step in decoupling Massachusetts law enforcement from federal immigration enforcement.”

“By shuttering detention facilities with a track record of problematic conditions and ending local collaboration with ICE, we can work together toward a fairer and more humane immigration system,” she added.