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ICE inmates in altercation with corrections officers over coronavirus testing in Bristol County

The office of Bristol Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson (right) estimated damage at $25,000.David L. Ryan

Inmates at the C. Carlos Carreiro Immigration Detention Center in North Dartmouth allegedly refused coronavirus tests, attacked corrections officers, and caused $25,000 worth of damage to the facility Friday evening, according to the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office.

But immigration advocates say the detainees were assaulted and pepper-sprayed by corrections officers after they protested — not because they wanted to avoid testing, but because they feared being removed from their unit and taken to the facility’s medical unit, which they say is unsanitary, or to solitary confinement.

About 10 detainees held in the jail’s B Wing reported symptoms of COVID-19 to medical staff but then refused to be tested, according to the statement from the sheriff’s office.

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Bristol Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson said in the statement that he had “advised the detainees that for their health and the health of their fellow detainees and our staff, they needed to be tested at the medical unit. The detainees refused to comply, became combatant and ultimately put the lives of themselves and many Bristol County officers at risk with their reckless actions.”

The inmates allegedly rushed at "Hodgson and corrections officers, barricaded themselves inside the facility, ripped washing machines and pipes off the wall, broke windows and trashed the entire unit,” according to the statement.

Then the detainees allegedly attacked corrections officers, special response team members, and a K9 unit that entered the facility but were quickly restrained, according to Hodgson’s office.

No staff members were injured, but three detainees were taken to a hospital, according to the statement. One had symptoms of a panic attack, another had a preexisting condition that required care, and a third had a medical incident after being removed from Unit B, the sheriff’s office said.

Detainees have been moved to the facility’s special housing unit, where they are being held in single cells awaiting COVID-19 testing, disciplinary action, and criminal charges, the sheriff’s office said.

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The detainees’ greatest fear was that they would be placed in solitary confinement, according to Vanesa Suarez, a community organizer for the Connecticut Bail Fund, who said a close friend was among those involved in Friday’s altercation.

“Everyone in Bristol has learned that if you express any kind of illness, whether it’s related to coronavirus or not, you will be placed into solitary, and you will not be tested, and you will not receive any medical care,” Suarez said.

She said detainees taken to the medical unit have reported that equipment there does not appear to be properly sanitized between patients, so they fear exposure to the virus.

The Fang Collective, an advocacy group that has opposed the holding of federal immigration detainees in Bristol County, said a detainee had described the incident by phone. The unnamed detainee said Hodgson had grabbed him violently and corrections officers had used pepper spray on the detainees, getting the liquid inside his mouth.



Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.