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Lynn man sues over wife’s death in N.Y. jail

A Lynn man is suing county officials in New York over the death of his wife, who died one year ago today in a New York jail while awaiting deportation to France, according to a complaint filed Thursday in federal court in Albany.

Irene Bamenga, then 29, died in her cell at the Albany County Correctional Facility in Colonie, N.Y., because jail officials and medical staff failed to give her the medication she needed to manage chronic congestive heart failure, her husband, Yodi Zikianda, claimed in the lawsuit.

“My client, Irene Bamenga, age 29 of Lynn Massachusetts was on July 27, 2011, deported to death,” Alex MacDonald, the family’s attorney, said in an e-mail.


Bamenga, a French citizen, was in the custody of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement when she died.

“ICE delegated all of its responsibility to state actors in New York, so the sheriffs and doctors and nurses at Albany and Allegany took on the role of the federal government,” MacDonald said.

A spokesman for the immigration agency said Thursday that it does not comment on pending litigation.

The suit targets Allegany and Albany counties, the sheriffs in each county, and the medical staffs at the facilities in which Bamenga was held.

The defendants, including officials from the Allegany County and Albany County sheriff’s offices, could not be reached for comment Thursday night.

On July 15, 2011, Bamenga was to fly from Toronto to her native France. As Bamenga, Zikianda, and a third person attempted to cross the border near Buffalo, Bamenga was turned away by Canadian customs officials, “apparently on the basis of concern that she did not closely resemble her passport photograph,” according to the complaint.

After being denied by Canadian officials, Bamenga was detained by US customs officials because her visa had expired. When Bamenga was taken into custody, she told officials that she suffered from the heart condition and needed to maintain “an extensive regimen to prevent serious illness and death,” the documents said. She also provided the immigration agency with the prescription medications Bamenga intended to take to France.


Bamenga was first placed in the Allegany County Jail in Belmont, N.Y. There, the complaint said, jail officials and medical staff failed to provide her with medication until July 18, 2011, showing “a deliberate indifference” to her needs.

When medication was administered, it was inconsistent and incomplete, the documents said. On July 21, 2011, Bamenga, along with her prescription medication, was transferred to the Albany County Correctional Facility, officials said. There, inconsistent administration of the medications continued, the complaint alleged.

Two days before her death, Bamenga wrote that she was not receiving the medications she needed and that she was experiencing “shortness of breath at night especially when laying down. Palpitations when laying down. Dizziness upon standing up when palpitation and shortness of breath” occurred, according to medical documents.

Bamenga died of “an apparent heart condition” on July 27, 2011, one day before her deportation, according to a statement the agency released the day of her death. She was found in her cell with “zero signs of life,” the complaint says.

Zikianda is seeking $75,000 and a trial in the alleged wrongful death of his wife, according to to the complaint.

Colin A. Young can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ColinAYoung.