ACLU of Rhode Island executive director Steven Brown issued the following statement today in response to last night's incident outside the Wyatt Detention Center where protesters were pepper-sprayed and one person was seriously injured by a pickup truck used by a correctional officer to try to break up protesters blocking the facility's parking lot:
"Last night's incident outside the Wyatt Detention Facility was unconscionable, and nothing less than an attempt to chill the exercise of First Amendment rights by hundreds of peaceful protesters.
"While some of the protesters may have been obstructing the entrance to a parking lot, there are many mechanisms available to police to address such conduct. However, a correctional officer's deliberate deployment of a pickup truck to push people away from the lot, and the indiscriminate use of pepper spray on the protesters by Wyatt guards were completely unacceptable uses of force. We are pleased that the Attorney General has agreed to conduct an investigation of this disturbing incident, and we look forward to seeing the appropriate individuals held accountable for what happened."
The facility has a troubled history when it comes to immigrant detainees. Ten years ago, the ACLU successfully sued over the death of an ICE detainee who died in Wyatt custody following months of abuse by guards and lack of medical care. Despite complaining for months to prison officials about being in excruciating pain, the detainee, Jason Ng, was first diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and a broken spine less than a week before he died. As a result of the ACLU's lawsuit, ICE cancelled its contract with Wyatt to house immigrant detainees, but a new contract was quietly signed in March of this year when the ACLU learned about it and brought it to the public's attention.