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Family Close to Settling Wrongful-Death Case With GEO Group, Doctor

Kamyar Samimi died after a two-week stint at the Aurora Contract Detention Facility.EXPAND
Kamyar Samimi died after a two-week stint at the Aurora Contract Detention Facility.
Kenzie Bruce
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The family of Kamyar Samimi, a longtime resident of the United States who died in December 2017 after spending just two weeks at an Aurora ICE facility, is close to finalizing a settlement in a wrongful-death lawsuit.

"The parties continue to work on a resolution to this case and have now agreed to all terms of a Settlement Memorandum and are working to finalize the settlement agreement and release of claims documents," lawyers representing the various parties in the case said in a joint filing last month.

The adult children of Samimi, a 64-year-old Iranian national and green-card holder, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Colorado in November 2019 against GEO Group, the private prison company that runs the Aurora immigrant detention facility, and Jeffrey Peterson, the head doctor there at the time Samimi died, claiming that the two defendants failed to provide Samimi with adequate medical care.

"What happened to my family is horrible, and I never want that to happen to anyone else," says Neda Samimi-Gomez, Samimi's 27-year-old daughter and a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Lawyers involved in the case are reluctant to discuss details of the proposed settlement, but discussions appear to be in the final stages.

"I don’t anticipate any problems that will come up as we continue to negotiate the terms of a final resolution. We’re confident that we’ll be able to reach a resolution that is reasonable and fair to all of the parties, plaintiff included," says Craig Sargent, a Denver lawyer who is representing Peterson in the case; he expects the settlement agreement "to be done within the next several weeks." Lawyers representing GEO Group in the lawsuit declined to comment, as did lawyers from the ACLU of Colorado, one of the firms representing the Samimi family, other than to confirm that the court filing was accurate.

Neda Samimi-Gomez has been suing GEO Group on her father's behalf.EXPAND
Neda Samimi-Gomez has been suing GEO Group on her father's behalf.
Conor McCormick-Cavanagh

Immigration advocates and lawyers have pointed to Samimi's death while in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody as one of the most tragic examples of what they charge is medical neglect by ICE and its contractors at the Aurora ICE facility, which is formally known as the Aurora Contract Detention Facility.

In fact, ICE's own review of the in-custody death, which it completed in May 2018, found that medical staff at the Aurora detention facility failed to intervene as Samimi, a longtime prescription methadone user, deteriorated from opioid withdrawal after staff cut him off cold turkey. Facility staff failed to comply with ICE's medical standards in more than a dozen instances, the report concluded.

Although Samimi had been a resident of the U.S. since 1976, had children who were American citizens and held a green card, ICE viewed him as potentially deportable and arrested him at his home in Thornton in November 2017 based on a 2005 guilty plea to cocaine possession. He was sent to the Aurora facility, which houses documented immigrants with criminal convictions or pending charges, undocumented immigrants without charges, and asylum seekers. Individuals detained by U.S. Marshals can also be housed there.

Samimi notified the facility of his methadone dependence. However, medical staff mistakenly assessed Samimi using an alcohol withdrawal assessment and treatment sheet instead of the Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale, the standard for dealing with an opioid user. Peterson did not perform a physical exam on Samimi.

When Samimi soon began to exhibit what federal investigators later recognized as symptoms of opioid withdrawal, Peterson said he thought Samimi was faking it "to get what he wanted" — i.e., methadone, according to the ICE review.

Many of the facility's nurses who interacted with Samimi agreed with Peterson's assessment.

"The majority of nurses interviewed stated they believed Samimi was malingering and seeking drugs throughout his stay and did not see an urgent need to notify the physician of his worsening condition," the ICE report noted.

Samimi's swift deterioration culminated with him falling out of his wheelchair and vomiting blood one morning in early December 2017.

The on-duty nurse didn't immediately call an ambulance because "he did not deem the situation an emergency," according to ICE. Instead, the nurse called Peterson, who was not at the facility but was required to be on call 24/7. The nurse left multiple messages on Peterson's cell and house phones, which Peterson later said he didn't receive, the ICE report noted.

It was only after a security guard suggested calling 911 that staff did so. When EMTs entered the facility, they found Samimi unresponsive and without a pulse. He was transported to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The coroner who performed Samimi's autopsy was unable to determine an exact cause of death, but the autopsy report did note emphysema and gastrointestinal bleeding as contributing factors.

The coroner added that he "could not rule out methadone withdrawal as the cause of death, but noted that deaths due to methadone withdrawal are rare," according to the ICE report.

Following Samimi's death, Aurora Contract Detention Facility management conducted two reviews and found that its staffers had adequately handled Samimi, a conclusion that was directly contradicted by ICE's review.

After Samimi's family filed suit, GEO Group denied any wrongdoing. "GEO strongly rejects these allegations," a company spokesman said in a statement. "The Processing Centers we manage on behalf of ICE are top-rated by independent accreditation entities, including the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, and provide high-quality residential care. We are committed to providing a safe and secure environment for everyone in our care.”

Concludes Sargent, "There was a disputed claim here, and just because we’ve chosen to resolve the case doesn’t mean that anyone was admitting any fault."

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