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AG calls out Bristol sheriff in ongoing battle over alleged civil rights violations at his detention center

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson (left) and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.Steven Senne/AP; John Tlumacki/Globe Staff (Custom credit)

Attorney General Maura Healey on Tuesday fired back at Bristol Sheriff Thomas Hodgson in a sharply worded letter, suggesting he should discuss with her office his concerns about a recent investigation into alleged civil rights violations at his detention center.

In an e-mail to Hodgson, Healey questioned why the sheriff waited until after her office released a highly critical investigation to complain about not being interviewed.

“My team remains glad to speak with you at your convenience if you have additional information that you now wish to provide,” Healey, a Democrat, wrote in an e-mail that was shared by her office.


The two elected officials have been embroiled in a bitter back and forth since Healey’s office declared Dec. 15 that Hodgson had violated the rights of 25 federal immigration detainees during a melee in May.

Hodgson, a Republican, quickly dismissed the investigation as a politically motivated endeavor and criticized Healey for not speaking to him directly before releasing her report.

Hodgson’s office didn’t immediately respond Tuesday to requests for comment.

During a news conference last week, he said Healey’s report was “about halfway down the sewer pipe.”

“You know why she didn’t interview me? She didn’t want to know the truth,” Hodgson told reporters.

Healey wrote Tuesday that she reached out to Hodgson on May 4 to discuss the incident and that she had publicly announced her investigation the following day. She said her staff interviewed 13 sheriff’s office employees, communicated with Hodgson’s lawyer about videos and documents, and reviewed his incident report and comments to the media about the confrontation.

Her investigation didn’t call for criminal charges, but found Hodgson’s office illegally unleashed dogs on detainees and used excessive amounts of pepper spray and pepper projectiles against them after tensions erupted over coronavirus testing. She recommended Hodgson be prohibited from holding detainees accused of civil immigration violations on behalf of the federal government.


The sheriff’s office runs the C. Carlos Carreiro Immigration Detention Center and is paid by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to house immigration detainees.

ICE has not commented on Healey’s report, citing an ongoing investigation by the inspector general of its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security.

Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins added to the criticism of Hodgson Tuesday, writing on Twitter that the detainees were victims of criminal conduct.

“Not a single criminal charge was filed against him. Not one,” she wrote. “These are crimes. No more letters, requests & civil charges. #justiceforall

The incident involving the immigration detainees has been scrutinized by state lawmakers, members of the state’s congressional delegation, as well as in state and federal courts.

On Friday, a state Senate committee found Hodgson’s office broke the law when it refused to let Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz enter the facility a day after the confrontation.

Last Thursday, the Massachusetts affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union asked a Suffolk Superior Court judge to schedule a status conference in a lawsuit it brought to gain access to records and video of the incident maintained by Hodgson’s office.

US District Judge William Young has barred the sheriff’s office from admitting any new immigration detainees and ordered coronavirus testing for staff and people being held at the facility on behalf of the federal government. Young issued the order in a class action lawsuit filed in March that sought the release of civil immigration detainees who were at risk of developing COVID-19.


Since the lawsuit was initiated, the number of immigration detainees in Bristol County has dropped from 148 people to 19 people as of Dec. 1, according to court papers. There have been no COVID-19 cases among immigration detainees there for about nine months, Hodgson’s office said in court filings.

In separate lawsuit filed Monday, a group of taxpayers asked the state Supreme Judicial Court to nullify agreements with ICE that allow local sheriffs’ offices to identify, arrest, and transport undocumented immigrants.

While ICE has these agreements with sheriffs in Bristol and Barnstable counties, the complaint targets the office of Plymouth Sheriff Joseph McDonald Jr. because that contract is the only one that is “operational,” according to the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, which represents the 28 plaintiffs.

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her @lauracrimaldi.