Sheriff rejects AG's recommendations, disputes report

Dec 16, 2020

This article has been updated to include comments from a Dec. 22 letter to Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson from Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson on Dec. 16 criticized a state attorney general investigation that found his office had violated the civil rights of 25 federal immigration detainees during a May 1 altercation at the ICE facility on Faunce Corner Road

A day earlier, Attorney General Maura Healey released a report that found the sheriff had used “excessive force” and violated the detainees’ civil rights. As a result of the investigation, Healey urged the Department of Homeland Security to terminate all contracts with the BCHOC "as expeditiously as possible." 

The AG also recommended that the jail adopt new procedures to avoid conflicts. 

The sheriff said at a press conference that the attorney general’s report was “baseless” and “politically motivated” and that he will take any of Healey’s recommendations about as seriously as trash “halfway down the sewer pipe.” 

“That’s about how much value I put into the attorney general’s recommendations,” Hodgson said during a press conference. “How dare she say she expects me to follow them.”

Healey warned she may sue if Hodgson doesn’t implement the changes quickly.

“Every day that Sheriff Hodgson does not implement much-needed reforms at the facility, he is risking the lives of every single person there, detainees and his own staff alike,” the attorney general said in a statement.

According to Hodgson, 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.

The findings revealed that Hodgson and his staff violated their own internal policies and protocols around de-escalation through the use of canine units and that “so much O.C. spray was used that two of these detainees had to be taken to the hospital” and that “many of the detainees became convinced that noxious gas was being pumped into the unit through the ventilation system.”

“My staff did everything by textbook,” Hodgson said, adding that the dogs were muzzled and were used in a dorm setting, not a cell as the report described. “That’s a de-escalation device to get us out of there safely.” 

The sheriff also claimed that he was hit by a chair and still experiences “nerve issues.”

The report stated that unlike the other instances of chair-throwing, what the sheriff described was not captured on the surveillance video. 

“We have no reason to disbelieve Sheriff Hodgson’s account, which was corroborated by one other corrections officer,” the report read. “But, in the absence of independent corroborating evidence, we cannot conclude with any degree of reasonable certainty that a chair struck Sheriff Hodgson.”

The sheriff also faulted the Attorney General for not seeking an interview with him. 

According to Healey, Hodgson supplied a detailed written report and then spoke to the media about the incident immediately after the fact and that he knew of the office’s investigation and “could have reached out at any time.”

She added that resources and interviews were instead focused on other people whose involvement was less clear.

Just because Sheriff Hodgson does not like my office’s factual findings does not make them any less reliable or true,” Healey stated.

In a response to Hodgson’s statements to the press, on Dec. 22 the Attorney General sent him a letter noting that her team would be glad to speak with him at his convenience.

While I fail to understand why you would now object to not being interviewed  when you knew about our investigation for months and never once reached out to provide information beyond that which we requested my team is more than willing to speak with you or to receive any additional information about the incident you now wish to share,” she wrote [emphasis in original].

She noted that her team has worked “tirelessly and expeditiously” on the investigation and remained “in close contact” with sheriff’s office counsel throughout.

“As part of this investigation, my staff interviewed thirteen BSCO staff members at all levels of rank,” the letter continues. “Your counsel was aware that these were the interviews we planned to pursue and was indeed present during the interviews.”

“Of course, we welcome the opportunity to speak with you about implementation of our recommendations, which we continue to believe are necessary to safeguard the detained population and BCSO staff alike,” she added.