February 9, 2009
Rhode Island ACLU files human rights lawsuit
The Rhode Island Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union today filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the family of Hiu Lui ("Jason") Ng, a 34-year-old Chinese detainee who died last August while in the custody of immigration officials at the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls. Motley Rice serves as lead counsel in the case.
The lawsuit, which is 47 pages long,documents what it calls "cruel, inhumane, malicious and sadistic behavior" against Ng, and alleges that more than two dozen defendants, including officials and employees of both the Wyatt facility and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), violated his constitutional rights in myriad ways.
Despite complaining for months to prison officials about being in excruciating pain, Ng was first diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and a broken spine less than a week before he died. Until that time, guards and medical personnel at Wyatt continually accused Ng of faking his illness. He was routinely denied use of a wheelchair despite his inability to walk, including when his attorney, who had traveled from New York, sought to visit him. Only a week before Ng died, immigration officials forced him to travel to Hartford, Connecticut for no legitimate reason, where he was urged to drop his appeals. To get him to Hartford, guards forcibly dragged Ng out of his cell, shackled his hands, feet and waist, and dragged him to a transport van, despite his screaming in pain. The cruel treatment he received at that time was captured, in part, on videotape.
In 1992, at the age of 17, Ng, along with his parents and sister, lawfully entered the United States on a visa. In 2001, he married Lin Li Qu, then a permanent legal resident and now a U.S. citizen. At about the same time, INS issued a notice for Ng to appear at a hearing on his immigration status, but the notice was erroneously sent to a non-existent address and Ng never received it. A few months later, an immigration judge ordered Ng's removal, in his absence and without his knowledge. In the meantime, Ng's wife filed a petition to have Ng's legal status adjusted. It was at an interview they attended on July 19, 2007 to discuss that status review that immigration officials arrested and detained Ng on the basis of the faulty 2001 immigration order. Between that time and his death a little more than a year later, Ng was transferred back and forth between at least three different ICE detention facilities.
Ng is survived by his wife and two sons, Raymond and Johnny, ages four and two respectively, on whose behalf the suit has been brought. Among the fourteen causes of action in the complaint are ones alleging excessive force and brutality, constitutionally inadequate medical care, denial of counsel and violations of anti-discrimination laws on the basis of disability. The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages against the defendants for, among other things, wrongful death, physical pain and suffering and mental anguish and emotional distress.
Last month, ICE issued a detailed and scathing report charging Wyatt with, among other things, providing Ng inadequate medical care, using excessive force, and improperly denying him access to counsel. As a result, ICE has pulled out of Wyatt all of the agency's detainees. However, the report did not examine or address any of ICE's own actions in the matter.
In addition to filing the suit today, the RI ACLU is seeking an emergency court order to halt ICE's planned deportation of a material witness in the case, Roger Gracias Lozano. Gracias Lozano, who is allegedly scheduled to be deported to El Salvador on Wednesday, was Ng's cellmate at Wyatt during much of Ng's time at the facility. According to the RI ACLU's motion, Gracias Lozano was "a witness to many of the assaults and deprivations against" Ng, and "provided constant assistance and care for Mr. Ng during the time leading up to his death." In addition to halting Gracias Lozano's deportation, the emergency request seeks his release from detention by ICE under reasonable conditions of supervision. A hearing on that request is expected within a day.
STATEMENTS FROM PARTICIPANTS IN QU V. CENTRAL FALLS DETENTION FACILITY CORPORATION
Hiu Lui Ng's family issued the following statement today in response to the filing of the lawsuit:
"Hiu Lui Ng was tortured, brutalized, and deprived of the dignity every human being deserves by officials at the Wyatt Detention Center. He was denied adequate medical care by the officials at the Franklin County Jail. His rights to liberty and due process were denied him by officials of the federal government and the Immigration and Custom Enforcement agency. Today, in filing this lawsuit, we seek justice for Hiu Lui. We hope that our actions today will hold the parties responsible for what they did to him so that no family, regardless of their immigration status, will have to go through the torture and indignities that Hiu Lui was put through."
Comments of RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown:
"Mr. Ng committed no crime, yet was treated worse than most criminals. If the abuse and substandard medical treatment that Mr. Ng received were an isolated incident, it would be bad enough. Unfortunately, too many detainees just like Mr. Ng are placed into a system that shows little concern or compassion for their well-being. The time has come for this undermining of our country's core values to stop, and for a reform of the immigrant detention system to start."