Controversial Sheriff Deposed In ICE Detainee Case

By Brian Dowling
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Law360 (May 5, 2020, 4:50 PM EDT) -- Lawyers for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees seeking release amid the coronavirus pandemic deposed a controversial Massachusetts sheriff responsible for conditions at the county jail, after gaining permission from a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge William Young ruled Monday that attorneys with Lawyers for Civil Rights could ask three hours' worth of questions of Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, but were not to get into a reported disruption over the weekend involving Hodgson and the detainees.

LCR attorneys said they interviewed Hodgson on Tuesday but declined to comment on the deposition.

The altercation over the weekend started as guards tried to transport inmates to the jail's medical wing, concerning detainees who feared being exposed to infection due to the flow of staff through that area, according to LCR. One inmate refused, and staff responded with riot gear, pepper spray or tear gas, and dogs, the group said.

According to LCR, Hodgson was directly involved in the conflict, which led to the hospitalization of three members of the class of prisoners seeking release amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The sheriff's office said in a statement that about 10 inmates refused to be tested for the virus, then "rushed violently" at Hodgson and staff before barricading themselves inside an area.

Attorneys for the detainees had asked to depose Hodgson in the case, but Judge Young said their questioning of the sheriff needed to stay focused on the case.

"The present conditions under which any of the detainees are being held is properly discoverable. The circumstances of Friday's disruption is not," the judge wrote. "Be it remembered that this is a habeas class action, not institutional reform litigation."

Through a spokesman, Hodgson said on Tuesday he is fully complying with all of Judge Young's orders.

The sheriff has been a frequent target of criticism from civil rights advocates. In 2017, he proposed to then-President-elect Donald Trump the idea of using prison inmates from around the country, including those in his custody, to help build the proposed wall on the southern border with Mexico. Hodgson, a Republican, also appears frequently as a commentator on Fox News.

Inmates in the southeastern Massachusetts jail filed the present suit March 27, claiming they were "literally trapped" in the crowded, unsanitary facility during the COVID-19 pandemic and feared for their lives.

In April, Judge Young certified the inmates as a class, saying the group has shown the county jail lacks adequate protections against the coronavirus. One inmate at the jail has tested positive for COVID-19, along with eight correctional officers and two other staff members, according to the most recent weekly filing in a separate prisoner release case.

The judge has taken up 10 applications for release a day, and so far has released 50 immigration detainees. Three weeks ago, Hodgson — represented by lawyers from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts — asked Judge Young to stop releasing inmates, arguing the population at the jail had fallen such that immigration detainees could observe social distancing. But the judge denied the request, calling the stay "a luxury" during the pandemic.

In his order on Monday, Judge Young said that during an upcoming hearing on Thursday, he wants to explore questions about the inmates' refusal to go to the medical wing, such as whether they feared testing positive for the virus and subsequent "quarantine and collateral restrictions."

Judge Young also said he wants a current census of immigration detainees at the site and the conditions under which they are being held.

Representatives for the U.S. attorney's office defending Hodgson in the habeas case declined to comment on Tuesday.

The detainees are represented by Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, Oren N. Nimni, Oren M. Sellstrom and Lauren Sampson of Lawyers for Civil Rights and Reena Parikh, Muneer Ahmad and Michael J. Wishnie of Yale Law School.

The government is represented by Thomas E. Kanwit and Michael P. Sady of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts.

The case is Savino et al. v. Hodgson et al., case number 1:20-cv-10617, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

--Editing by Janice Carter Brown.

Update: This story has been updated to include the current number of released detainees and to reflect that Hodgson's deposition took place Tuesday.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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