Opinion: Show us the tape, Sheriff Hodgson

Jul 28, 2022

To the editor:

In a Boston Globe editorial on May 7, 2020 Sheriff Hodgson was challenged to release the tape, he claimed to have made, of the melee that had occurred at the Bristol County Immigration Detention Center on May 1, 2020.

Hodgson publicly boasted  that he taped the event and it would reveal that he was justified in the attack upon the detainees housed at the facility under his supervision. But he has never released this tape, nor brought criminal complaints against these detainees.

However, Hodgson will undoubtedly now be compelled to do so, if it still exists, as evidence in a recently filed complaint  brought against him by sixteen detainees who allege that they were physically and mentally injured by the Sheriff, and others, during and after the events of May 1.

On April 29, 2022 these detainees  filed suit against Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, individually and collectively, as well as Supt. Steven Souza, Todd Lyons, DHS, ICE and unnamed correctional officers, in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts (Morocho v. Bristol County Sheriff’s Office). 

The complaint alleges violations of their fifth amendment right to due process, unlawful punishment, freedom  from cruel treatment and conditions of confinement, use of excessive force, violation of the Rehabilitation Act, violation of the American with disabilities Act, negligent maintenance, assault and battery, and negligent medical care.

The 82 page complaint contains graphic descriptions of  the alleged injuries and violations of each of the plaintiffs and they seek an award of compensatory and punitive damages as well as attorneys fees.

This complaint comes as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with Attorney General Maura Healey’s extensive investigative report condemning the sheriff for alleged constitutional violations and injuries to these plaintiffs.

What is newly disclosed is  the alleged punitive and horrific treatment of these detainees after May I, 2020, with resultant severe and enduring physical and mental suffering that continues two years after their ordeal.

If previous law suits, which caused enormous payouts to attorneys representing Thomas Hodgson, and for damages and fees awarded to the plaintiffs and their lawyers, are any indication, this promises to be one of the most expensive cases ever involving the sheriff.  And unfortunately that may effect taxpayers once again.

A case involving sixteen plaintiffs will undoubtedly take weeks, if not months to be heard by the court.  The discovery process, prior to trial, will require a vast amount of attorney involvement at great expense. There is no way to estimate the ultimate cost but it will probably surpass the awards paid out to the plaintiffs,  and their attorney, when several employees sued the sheriff years ago and the court found in their favor. 

This trial however will afford the public the opportunity to see the tapes and to hear direct testimony from the detainees, who will finally have their chance to describe what happened,with specificity, and in a public forum.

If a sheriff can’t control his seemingly vindictive behavior and it impacts on his ability to perform his duties, causes harm to others, and the cost of his accountability falls upon taxpayers, there is a remedy in November when the voters in Bristol County should  elect a new sheriff.

Betty Ussach,