A federal district court today rejected attempts by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to be dropped 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. 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, and he was only diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and a broken spine less than a week before he died.
In a 16-page opinion issued today, 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 at this stage of the proceedings. RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown said today: “We are very pleased with Judge Smith’s preliminary ruling in this case. Our lawsuit alleges that the federal government bears partial responsibility for the agonizing suffering that Jason experienced during the last month of this life. We look forward to proving these allegations as the case proceeds.”
The lawsuit claims that ICE had legal custody over Ng and knew of violations of his constitutional and statutory rights but did not act to stop them. In a hearing in March, the lawyer for ICE argued, among other things, that the federal agency could not be held responsible for the way corrections officers, medical staff and prison officials at Wyatt treated Ng because ICE had contracted out the work, so it was Wyatt’s responsibility to provide care for Ng.
Fidelma Fitzpatrick, an ACLU volunteer attorney who filed the lawsuit, countered that "ICE knew, or should have known, about Ng’s medical condition.” 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 that, "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.