The Rhode Island ACLU has filed a legal brief asking a federal court to reject arguments by the United States government that it be dismissed from the lawsuit on behalf of the family of a detainee who died while in the custody of immigration officials at the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls. 

Hiu Lui “Jason” Ng, the 34-year-old Chinese detainee, died in August 2008 after complaining for more than a month to prison officials about being in excruciating pain. Guards and medical personnel at Wyatt continually accused Ng of faking his illness and denied him medical care. He was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and a broken spine less than a week before he died.

In seeking to be dismissed from the case, attorneys for the U.S. government have largely argued that it should not be held responsible for the actions of officials and employees at Wyatt, who are also defendants in the suit and which had a contract with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain immigrants like Ng. However, the ACLU brief emphasizes that, in addition to Wyatt’s liability, the lawsuit “plainly allege[s] that the United States, itself, through the actions of its employees at ICE … exhibited negligent and tortious conduct … toward Mr. Ng while he was a detainee in the custody of ICE between July 3, 2008 and his tragic death from metastatic liver cancer on August 6, 2008. 

The 36-page brief, filed by RI ACLU volunteer attorneys Robert McConnell and Fidelma Fitzpatrick, cites three major reasons for holding the federal government liable:

  • ICE officials made no inspection visits to Wyatt during the entire month of July, even though federal regulations require weekly visits to ICE-contracted detention facilities like Wyatt for the express purpose of “address[ing] detainees’ personal concerns and to monitor living conditions”;
  • Government officials were on clear notice in July 2008 about Ng’s increasingly deteriorating health in Wyatt as the result of numerous communications made to ICE officials from concerned family members and attorneys, yet they failed to deem his situation an emergency requiring immediate attention; and
  • Federal officials again failed to provide Ng with any medical care after observing his poor health in Hartford, Connecticut on July 30th, during a special visit that ICE had ordered for no logically discernible reason. Instead, ICE officials merely ordered him returned to Wyatt where they “knew or should have known he was receiving severely inadequate medical care.” Ng died a week after this trip.

No date has been set yet for a hearing on the government’s motion or the motions of other defendants seeking to be dismissed from the suit.

Noting that Ng’s treatment was mentioned last month at a Congressional oversight hearing involving ICE detention of immigrants, RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown said today: “Across the country, too many people have died while being detained in custody on orders of immigration officials. Cases like Jason’s emphasize the need to hold the government accountable for what happens in these facilities. Otherwise, government officials will have no incentive to ensure that detainees receive the proper and humane treatment that our laws demand.”