The family of a Panamanian man who hanged himself in a South Georgia immigration detention center is suing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, alleging they tortured him with solitary confinement.
Filed in a federal court in Columbus this month, the lawsuit also accuses ICE of failing to provide Jeancarlo Alfonso Jimenez Joseph, 27, with necessary medical care in 2017 while he was at Stewart Detention Center, which sits just outside the tiny city of Lumpkin. The lawsuit, seeking unspecified damages, highlights the chronic medical staff shortages at Stewart that were documented in a 2017 report by the U.S. Homeland Security Department Office of Inspector General.
Jimenez battled schizophrenia and suffered from hallucinations. He had a history of suicide attempts and had been institutionalized before ICE detained him. The lawsuit says ICE punished his attempt to harm himself — he jumped from a top tier walkway to the ground level in the detention center — by placing him in solitary confinement. The agency prolonged his isolation after he reacted to his hallucinations and exposed himself to staff, the lawsuit says.
“Defendants’ torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of Jean as punishment for his mental illness caused him severe physical and mental pain and suffering, and ultimately, caused his death,” the lawsuit says.
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An ICE spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing his agency’s policy of not discussing pending litigation.
“That said, absence of comment should in no way be construed that ICE thinks a suit has any merit,” ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said. “In general, ICE activities are conducted in full compliance with federal law and agency policy.”
During the fiscal year that ended in September, nine out of more than 396,000 ICE detainees died in custody, Cox said. He said a pair of studies his agencies did in 2012 and 2013 found that, at any given time, about 1.1% of ICE detainees are in solitary confinement, or “segregated housing,” as ICE calls it.
CoreCivic, a Nashville-based corrections company, operates Stewart through agreements with ICE and Stewart County. The company is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Jimenez’ mother, Nerina Joseph, and his stepfather, Gilberto Rodriguez Chaverra, who is also the administrator of Jimenez’ estate, are suing 12 ICE officials. One of the family’s attorney is Brian Spears, who represented the widow of Roberto Medina-Martinez, a Mexican who died in ICE custody in 2009. Medina-Martinez was held at Stewart. His widow filed a $1 million wrongful death lawsuit, saying he died from myocarditis — or an inflammation of the heart muscle — because of the federal government’s negligence. She reached a confidential settlement in 2012 with the government, which denied negligence.
The other lawyer for the family is Andrew Free. He has represented the family of Efrain De La Rosa, 40, of Mexico, a mentally ill detainee who hanged himself last year inside his solitary confinement cell in Stewart.
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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that authorities at Stewart failed to monitor both Jimenez and De La Rosa as often as they were required before they killed themselves.