A former detainee of the GEO Group detention facility in Aurora has filed a legal claim against Immigration and Customs Enforcement for alleged medical neglect.
Forty-one-year-old René Lima-Marín's lawyers filed the claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act, a federal statute that allows individuals to sue the U.S. in federal court. The claim alleges that after Lima-Marín sustained a serious injury to his face, GEO Group, the private prison company that runs the facility via a contract with ICE, failed to provide him with adequate medical treatment. Lima-Marín's lawyers are asking for $1,000,000 in compensation.
"The law requires Mr. Lima-Marín to monetize his damages at this stage, but that's difficult because the harm is ongoing," says Danielle Jefferis, one of his attorneys. "He still experiences symptoms of his injuries and needs follow-up surgeries. In the end, he's asking for what's fair and just to compensate him for what he endured and continues to endure."
On February 7, 2018, Lima-Marín slipped and fell onto the edge of a steel toilet in his cell at the detention facility. The collision fractured multiple bones in his face.
"Mr. Lima-Marín had fallen with such force, he could see the imprint of the edge of the toilet on his cheek," Novo Legal Group, the law firm representing Lima-Marín, wrote in the complaint.
Lima-Marín said that after being seen by nurses at the facility, he wasn't taken to the hospital for over an hour. "I was telling them how much pain I was in. But the only thing they gave me was Ibuprofen," Lima-Marín says.
When he finally was transported to UCHealth, doctors diagnosed him with multiple facial fractures and said that he should return in a week or two for a follow-up examination and treatment, including surgery, or he risked permanent damage.
After being transported back to the GEO detention facility, Lima-Marín expected to be given the painkiller that the UCHealth doctors had prescribed him. But he alleges that he wasn't given this medication and instead had to take a far weaker alternative given to him by staff nurses, including the occasional Ibruprofen.
In the weeks following Lima-Marín's injury, he attempted to explain to the GEO staff doctor that he had been experiencing extreme pain, to which the doctor allegedly responded by accusing Lima-Marín of lying and exaggerating his injuries, according to the complaint.
After his lawyers sent a formal notice to GEO staff notifying them of this alleged treatment, the doctor said that Lima-Marín "exhibited rude and disrespectful behavior to nursing staff passing medications," a claim Lima-Marín's lawyers deny.
The doctor also said he would be filing a complaint with the Colorado Bar Association, but lawyers at Novo Legal Group say they haven't been notified of such a complaint.
On March 15, 2018, Lima-Marín was transported to see an eye specialist who also told him that he needed surgery. But the specialist said that the bones had already begun to heal and would need to be re-broken before going ahead with the surgery needed to prevent permanent damage.
The medical saga finally ended on March 26, 2018, when Lima-Marín won his immigration case and was released from the facility. But close to a year after his release, Lima-Marín is still upset about the quality of medical care that he received.
"I received absolutely no care for something that happened in their custody, in their facility, even though the doctor and specialist specifically said I needed to come back to the hospital for surgery," says Lima-Marín.
ICE declined to comment for this story via a statement, adding that "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."
Lima-Marín first came into contact with law enforcement in 1998, when he and a man named Michael Clifton robbed two movie-rental stores. In early 2000, the two were convicted of robbery and kidnapping (for transporting people in the stores between rooms) and were each sentenced to 98 years in prison. Appeals to reduce Lima-Marín's sentence failed, and he sat in prison until April 2008, when he was released because of an error in some Department of Corrections paperwork. Lima-Marín began his life again, started a family and completed parole by 2013.
Then in early 2014, Arapahoe County prosecutors discovered the error, and Lima-Marín was rearrested, staying in prison until a judge ordered him free in May 2017. As soon as he was released, ICE arrested Lima-Marín on immigration charges stemming from his conviction in 2000. Two days later, then-Governor John Hickenlooper pardoned Lima-Marín for his past conviction.
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Close to a year of legal fighting between Lima-Marín's lawyers and the federal government then ensued, until Lima-Marín's final release in March 2018. ICE said it would no longer try to deport Lima-Marín.
Medical neglect at the Aurora detention facility is a frequent complaint among current and past detainees. That, combined with an unannounced expansion of operations and infectious-disease outbreaks, has led elected officials like Congressman Jason Crow to start focusing more attention on the facility.
Jefferis says she's glad the public is taking an interest in the facility.
“Indifference to serious medical needs in the Aurora detention center, as Mr. Lima Marín experienced, is unfortunately not uncommon," she says. "His efforts through this case are one measure to hold the government accountable for how it treats the 1,500 people in the facility. People in immigration detention have rights, and we’re going to be sure the government knows this."