R.I. lawmakers seek federal probe into death

Members of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation are seeking a Homeland Security investigation into the death of Hiu Lui Ng, a Chinese immigrant who died last week at Rhode Island Hospital while in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“It’s clearly a violation of human rights,” says Shannah Kurland, of the Olneyville Neighborhood Association, speaking outside the Wyatt Detention Facility yesterday.


The Providence Journal / Andrew Dickerman


Lawyers for Ng, a 34-year-old computer engineer from New York, say he died from complications of cancer and a fractured spine after being denied medical care at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, and a Vermont jail where ICE contracts for detainee bed space.

“This is a serious matter that should be thoroughly investigated and we are sending a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff asking for an investigation,” said Chip Unruh, spokesman for U.S. Sen. Jack Reed. “While ICE is conducting its own internal investigation, Homeland Security has jurisdiction, and we want someone with oversight to take a hard look at this,” Unruh said.

The letter to Chertoff is being sent jointly by Reed, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and U.S. Representatives Patrick Kennedy and James R. Langevin.

Meanwhile, Ng’s lawyers yesterday released a letter they sent Tuesday to Chertoff, Wyatt officials and prosecutors in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut, that widens allegations made in earlier affidavits. The affidavits alleged Ng was denied proper medical care and legal access at Wyatt, where he spent the final month of his life as his undetected, undiagnosed cancer withered his body, and fractured spine left him unable to walk.

The letter seeking a criminal investigation refers to both medical care and “the conduct of ICE agents, guards, medical staff and other employees” at both the Wyatt and Franklin County Jail in St. Albans, Vt., where he was detained for 10 weeks this spring.

A coalition of community advocates demanded that U.S. Attorney Robert Clark Corrente and Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch conduct a similar criminal investigation, and sought support for their request from the congressional delegation. Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, said he will send a letter “to the appropriate authorities” next week with a similar request.

Standing outside the chainlink fencing and barbed wire surrounding the Wyatt facility, advocates accused ICE and Wyatt authorities of deliberately maltreating Ng with what one activist called “sadistic violence.”

“It’s clearly a violation of human rights; we believe that it’s a criminal act to deny someone medical care and cause their death like that,” said Shannah Kurland of the Olneyville Neighborhood Association. Other participants represented the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project; Direct Action for Rights and Equality; Students for a Democratic Society; the Immigrants in Action Committee, and Fuerza Laboral (Power of Workers). Several clergy members attended.

Kurland and other speakers cited documented accounts by the media and human-rights organizations of detainees’ deaths in ICE custody across the country. That includes a Brazilian illegal immigrant who died last year after convulsing at the ICE office in downtown Providence.

“ICE may think they can get away with this all around the country, but no, not in Rhode Island,” Kurland said. “… This is our state and ICE is not going to torture people here. We want our congressional representatives, our U.S. Attorney and our state attorney general to be with us in the statement that no criminal, outrageous, sadistic violence against a human being is permitted in Rhode Island.”

Josh Thomas of the HIV/AIDS mobilization group called the alleged denial of medical care to Ng an example “of systematic and routine denial of medical care for people who have preventable, documented medical problems” while in ICE detention.

ICE, through a spokesperson, responded with a word-for-word statement the agency issued earlier this week. It says that ICE “takes great care to ensure the safety and well being of each of the individuals who come through our detention facilities each year,” and adds, “Any detainee death is a sad and unfortunate situation.”

An internal investigation is under way by the ICE Office of Professional Responsibility and the Department of Human Services, including into “specific allegations that have been raised that Mr. Ng was mistreated by officers while in custody of the Wyatt Detention Facility.”

ICE declined further comment because of the pending investigation.

Wyatt authorities this week called “wholly without merit” the allegations that Ng was denied proper medical care while detained there. Contrary to the published report in the Times, Ng’s diagnosis “came as the direct result of medical care and special diagnostic evaluation recommended by the facility’s medical staff,” the statement said, adding that at that point, Ng’s condition was beyond treatment.

But Brown, of the ACLU, said his request for an investigation “will point out the facts that are already available to what happened to Mr. Ng, and express concern about the comments that have thus far been made by the [Wyatt] facility,” which Brown said “clearly contradict the factual information that’s out there.”

Mike Healey, spokesman for Lynch, said, “While we don’t doubt the sincerity in the least” of the community advocates, “their rhetoric is really not helpful at all in terms of saying that the state of Rhode Island ‘should not roll over.’ ” Healey said the matter is a federal one, “and the agency they should be demanding an investigation from is the United States Department of Justice.”

source: http://www.projo.com/news/content/IMMIGRANT_DEMONSTRATION_08-16-08_ATB85CG_v29.412149a.html


One Response to “R.I. lawmakers seek federal probe into death”

  1. just another example of a privately run prison.

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