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ACLU Opposes Efforts to Block Public Release of Detention Facility Videotapes in the Jason Ng Case

Posted: April 19, 2010|Category: Criminal Justice

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The Rhode Island ACLU today objected to a request by the Wyatt Detention Center to prevent the public disclosure of videotapes of the treatment by guards of Hiu Lui “Jason” Ng, the 34-year-old Chinese detainee who died in August 2008 while in the facility’s custody. The objection was filed in the ACLU’s on-going lawsuit on behalf of Ng’s family, which challenges the lack of medical care he received while suffering from terminal cancer and a broken spine.

The videotapes at issue purportedly show Ng, in excruciating pain, being dragged out of his cell by prison guards for what turned out to be a completely unnecessary trip to Hartford, Connecticut just days before his death. Expressing concerns that release of the videos would “substantially inhibit the Court’s ability to field an impartial jury for the trial of this matter,” Wyatt officials are seeking a protective court order to bar any pre-trial dissemination of the tapes once they are turned over to the ACLU’s lawyers and other parties involved in the case.

However, in a written response to that request filed today, the ACLU notes that “the sole evidence in support of such a drastic remedy is internet searches conducted by the defendants that show that there has already been a large amount of national and international publicity about this case.” The memo also argues that Wyatt officials “completely contradict” themselves by basing their request on the prejudice they allegedly would suffer if the public saw this evidence, but then asserting in the papers they filed that the video “directly refutes the most serious allegations of misconduct on the part of [the facility] and its employees.” The ACLU’s response: “The defendants should not be allowed to have it both ways.”

The ACLU memo goes on to urge that, if the court nonetheless agrees to a protective order, the order should be limited in various ways. In particular, it should specify that the restrictions apply only for the pre-trial period or until the Court considers the video tapes in the context of any substantive pre-trial motions, and that the video tapes can be used at depositions. The case is before U.S. District Judge William Smith, who is also presently considering a motion filed by the federal government to be dismissed from the lawsuit.

Today’s response was filed by ACLU volunteer attorneys Robert J. McConnell, Fidelma L. Fitzpatrick and Aileen L. Sprague of the law firm of Motley Rice LLC.

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