A federal district court heard oral arguments today on whether to dismiss an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official from the federal lawsuit filed by the R.I. ACLU 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. ACLU volunteer attorneys Fidelma Fitzpatrick and Robert McConnell urged the judge to reject the government’s motion.
Hiu Lui “Jason” Ng, the 34-year-old Chinese detainee, died in August 2008 after complaining for months 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 only diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and a broken spine less than a week before he died.
Last June, U.S. District Court Judge William E. Smith agreed that the ACLU had presented enough evidence of government negligence to keep ICE in the case as a defendant, but today’s hearing involved the government’s effort to dismiss an ICE official, Lawrence Smith, who ordered Ng to take a completely unnecessary and extraordinarily painful trip to Hartford, Connecticut one week before his death. The ACLU argues that by the time Smith met with Ng, “his own eyes showed him that Ng was gravely ill,” yet he did nothing about it. Smith also listened in on a phone conversation Ng had with his sister there during which Ng “cried and begged to be taken to a hospital.” Yet, the ACLU argued in a brief, “even though Smith saw the terrible shape Ng was in and heard Ng describe his piteous plight to his sister, begging for a doctor’s care, Smith utterly ignored the responsibility he had to seek medical assistance for Ng, a detainee in his custody.” The federal government is arguing that there is insufficient evidence that Smith acted with “deliberate indifference” to Ng’s medical needs.
The ACLU lawsuit, filed in 2009, noted that ICE had received a letter from Ng’s attorney on July 14, 2008 explaining Ng’s condition and stating that requests for medical treatment had been repeatedly denied. The lawsuit claims, "Despite his obvious severe and debilitating medical condition, and the actual notice it had received of his health condition, ICE officials ordered that Mr. Ng on July 30, 2008 travel to Hartford, Connecticut from Central Falls, Rhode Island. Given his serious and obvious medical condition, requiring Mr. Ng to make this trip represented cruel, inhumane, malicious and sadistic behavior on the part of ICE officials. These actions represented calculated harassment unrelated to any legitimate or legal purpose.” Ng died on August 8th, a week after this trip. The judge took the government’s motion under advisement. Dozens of other defendants are also named in the ACLU’s lawsuit.