ACLU of Colorado Suing ICE Over Records Related to Aurora Detainee's Death

Kenzie Bruce
The immigration detention facility in Aurora is run by private prison company GEO Group through a contract with ICE.
The ACLU of Colorado is suing Immigration and Customs Enforcement for more information regarding the death of Kamyar Samimi, a detainee who died while in ICE custody in Aurora.

"It's been sixteen months since Mr. Samimi died, and since [then] we've been after really any information that ICE has about his death. ICE continues to keep the public in the dark about this tragedy," says Arash Jahanian, an ACLU of Colorado lawyer who filed the lawsuit, on April 9.

Samimi, a 64 year-old Iranian national who had been in the United States since 1976, died on December 2, 2017. He was one of 22 detainees who died while in ICE custody in the past two years, according to NBC News.

ICE responded to a public-records request sent by the ACLU of Colorado on December 20, 2017, with five pages, none of which included any information about Samimi's death. The ACLU appealed the document share, and in July 2018, ICE said it would hand over more documents about Samimi's death.

But the ACLU says that it has yet to receive these documents and that ICE did not respond to a follow-up inquiry in December 2018.

ICE arrested Samimi at his home in Thornton on November 17, 2017, using a 2005 conviction for cocaine possession as grounds for his deportation. Upon arrest, Samimi was taken to the immigration detention facility in Aurora, which is run by private prison company GEO Group through a contract with ICE.

According to the description of Samimi's time in captivity and death posted by ICE on its website, Samimi reported "adult depression, heroine [sic] and methadone addiction and complaint of abdominal pain."

The report then says that Samimi was placed under medical observation and quickly began complaining of nausea and vomiting and "was observed to vomit blood."

On November 28, guards observed Samimi with a bed sheet "tied tightly around his neck." He was placed on suicide watch.

On the morning of December 2, 2017, Samimi attempted to get into a wheelchair to travel to a psychological evaluation, but "vomited blood and collapsed." According to the report, Samimi then stopped breathing, and medical personnel performed emergency treatment. He was then transported to a nearby emergency room, where he was pronounced dead. The most likely cause of Samimi's death was "asphyxia secondary to aspiration of bloody vomitus," the report concludes.

A separate autopsy notes that Samimi died of undetermined causes, adding that emphysema and "gastrointenstinal bleeding likely contributed to death. Methadone withdrawal cannot be ruled out as the cause of death, however, deaths due to methadone withdrawal are rare."

Jahanian says that Samimi's death is a symptom of a nationwide problem.

"It's an example of this government's cruel, inhumane immigration policies. And it's also very indicative of the concerns that many organizations and the public have about the way that ICE is treating immigrants and, in particular, those in their custody," Jahanian says.

ICE says it 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," the federal agency said in a statement.

René Lima-Marín, a former detainee of the Aurora detention center, recently filed a legal claim alleging medical neglect at the facility. Additionally, Congressman Jason Crow is pushing for a new national policy that would require immigration detention facilities to comply with inspection requests from members of Congress within 48 hours.

The full complaint is available below.