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Lawsuit over death of Lynn woman allowed to go to jury

A federal judge in New York refused Tuesday to dismiss a wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of Irene Bamenga, a French national who was trying to return home to France before she was detained for 12 days on immigration violations, held in New York county jails, and deprived of critical heart medications.

Bamenga, 29, who was living with her husband in Lynn, died in custody despite pleas for her medication. She was the subject of a 2012 Boston Globe series, "Justice in the Shadows," which highlighted the secrecy of the country's immigration system and the way it cares for detainees.

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The decision by US Senior Judge Thomas J. McAvoy in the Northern District of New York allows the wrongful death and civil rights claims of Bamenga's husband, Yodi Zikianda, to be brought before a jury. It also vindicated Zikianda's years-long effort to have the case proceed, according to his lawyers.

Because the case is a civil lawsuit, McAvoy had to decide whether to let jurors decide the case.

"This is a hugely significant day in the long history of the Irene Bamenga case, and an equally significant one in the long quest of Irene's husband, Yodi, to vindicate the memory of the wife whom he loved deeply," said Alex MacDonald, of the Boston-based MacDonald Law Group, who is one of Zikianda's lawyers.

The lawsuit names the Albany County Correctional Facility in New York and Bamenga's health care providers, among others, for the wrongful death of Bamenga in June 2011.

In 2011, Bamenga had tried to cross the border into Canada so she could return to France, where she planned to resolve her US immigration status. However, she was detained by US Customs and Border Protection agents at the border for having an expired visa, a civil violation.

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Bamenga already had a plane ticket to return to France, but federal agents held her in a prison despite her complaints that she had congestive heart disease and needed medication.

The Globe series found that tens of thousands of immigration detainees are being held in secret prisons each day, many with no access to caretakers.


Milton J. Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.