A group of civil rights lawyers is asking a federal judge to sanction Immigration and Customs Enforcement over its refusal to release a review examining the 2017 death of a detainee at the Aurora detention facility.
On May 23, the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, a Denver-based nonprofit law firm, filed the motion asking for the sanction after engaging in over fifteen months of litigation with ICE in the District Court of Colorado. The litigation has mostly focused on compelling ICE to release documents pertaining to the death of Kamyar Samimi, who died while in ICE custody in Aurora in December 2017. ICE finished the Samimi death review, which recently became public, in May 2018, but the federal agency has yet to release it and other documents to the lawyers.
"We've had enough of their playing around. It's inappropriate, especially because the public is seeking accountability and transparency," says Liz Jordan, a lawyer at the center.
As part of the sanction, Jordan and her colleagues are asking the court to make ICE pay their attorney's fees for the time spent on this case and to produce documents pertaining to the deaths of Samimi and Vicente Caceres Maradiaga, a Honduran national who died in May 2017 while in ICE custody in California. The group is also pushing ICE to share "policies and protocols that inform decisions on medical and mental health care, accommodations for disabilities, and segregated confinement of detainees."
When contacted for comment on its legal battle with the civil rights lawyers, ICE had this to say: "As a matter of policy, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not comment on pending litigation. However, lack of comment should not be construed as agreement with or stipulation to any of the allegations. As part of the Department of Homeland Security’s homeland security mission, our trained law enforcement professionals adhere to the Department’s mission and values, and uphold our laws while continuing to provide the nation with safety and security."
On May 20, Samimi's death review became public when Rocky Mountain PBS reporter Brittany Freeman published an article and shared the document a full year after it had been finalized. Freeman obtained the review through a Freedom of Information Act request, and it presents a scathing account of how staff at the Aurora facility mishandled Samimi's health issues.
In the May 23 motion for sanctioning, the lawyers wrote that "until April 25, 2019, ICE has taken the position they have no records pertaining to either Mr. Maradiaga or Mr. Samimi, let alone any review of the circumstances of the death of either."
Toward the end of April, lawyers representing ICE acknowledged the existence of the two death reviews and said they would look into releasing Samimi's.
Jordan and her colleagues have been pushing for the release of these particular documents as part of a larger project examining reviews of deaths of individuals while in ICE custody. ICE and the ACLU of Colorado are involved in a separate lawsuit over the release of documents related to Samimi's death.