Two investigations into a violent incident at a Bristol County jail in North Dartmouth that sent three immigrant detainees to the hospital have wrapped up — and the findings paint a damning portrait of the leadership of Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson.
In a 60-page report, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey concluded that Hodgson’s office used excessive force and acted with callous disregard for the well-being of detainees, and thus violated their civil rights, during the May confrontation. A second investigation, by the state Senate, found that Hodgson broke the law when he blocked state Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz’s access to the jail the day after the incident. A third investigation, by the Office of the Inspector General at the US Department of Homeland Security, is pending.
It’s clearer than ever that Hodgson can’t be entrusted with immigration matters. That’s why the incoming Biden administration should terminate Hodgson’s two federal contracts that authorize him to house immigrant detainees and enforce immigration laws.
Healey’s report describes in detail what transpired that day — based on video evidence, interviews with staff and detainees, and other sources. The AG’s team wrote that Bristol County officers illegally deployed unmuzzled police dogs on detainees and used an excessive amount of pepper spray and pepper-ball projectiles. The report notes that “so much pepper spray was used that two detainees were taken to the hospital with symptoms of respiratory distress,” while a third had to be revived. “Perhaps most shocking, the detainee who required emergency chest compressions was not taken to the hospital for a medical evaluation,” the investigators wrote. He was “instead placed in solitary confinement.”
Hodgson, who is full of bluster and typically acts like he doesn’t answer to anyone, has often been called a Joe Arpaio wannabe, given the notoriously anti-immigrant attitudes he shares with the former Arizona sheriff. Hodgson regularly corresponds with Trump administration senior adviser Stephen Miller, the force behind the president’s nativist and restrictionist agenda on immigration, and has pushed for radical ideas like sending inmates to the Southern border to help build Trump’s wall.
Hodgson categorically rejected Healey’s findings and recommendations — which ranged from calling for the US Department of Homeland Security to terminate its partnership with Bristol County, to demanding that Hodgson adopt enhanced policies and robust training. “It’s about halfway down the sewer pipe,” the sheriff told reporters. ”That’s about how much value I put into the attorney general’s recommendations.”
“We’re disappointed by his statements that he won’t even consider our recommendations,” Healey said in an interview. “Every day that he fails to implement much-needed reform, he is risking the lives of every single person there, his detainees and staff alike.”
While Healey’s office did review video evidence from that day, Hodgson has refused to release any videos publicly. There is a pending lawsuit that the ACLU of Massachusetts filed to obtain those records. “To the extent that [Hodgson] is disputing the findings in our investigation, he should immediately release videos and incident reports to the public,” Healey said.
Because it’s unlikely that Hodgson will change his practices voluntarily, DHS should end Bristol County’s immigration contracts — one, a so-called 287(g) agreement, which allows the sheriff’s office to be deputized as US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, and a second intergovernmental agreement to house and transport federal immigration detainees who are in civil deportation proceedings. Healey contends that Hodgson’s staff violated the terms of the second contract, which states, among other things, that the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office must comply with ICE’s detention standards. These standards include a directive that K9 dogs “will not be used for force, control or intimidation of detainees”; Healey’s investigation shows that’s exactly what happened during the May incident.
Hodgson has demonstrated that he cannot be trusted to respect immigrant detainees’ civil rights. Voters will have a chance to end his tenure in 2022. Until then, the incoming leadership at DHS should enforce the agency’s own standards and rescind Bristol County’s contracts.
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