SPLC files complaint against Adams County Correctional Facility, ICE, alleging inmate abuse

Published 12:51 pm Wednesday, October 28, 2020

NATCHEZ — The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security against the Adams County Correctional Facility and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, alleging officers used torture to coerce Cameroonian immigrants in the facility to sign deportation documents.

In the complaint dated Oct. 7, the SPLC alleges ICE officers at the Adams County Correctional Center, along with the facility administrator and CoreCivic guards, tortured Cameroonian individuals in their custody.

A spokesman for CoreCivic and a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement vehemently deny the allegations.

Email newsletter signup

The torture was inflicted, the complaint alleges, “in attempts to coerce them to sign immigration documents through pressure, threats and — in several cases — excessive use of force, including physical abuse and pepper spray, resulting in severe injury. This pattern of coercion and unwarranted use of physical force by ICE officers is abusive, unlawful and tantamount to torture.”

The complaint also questions the validity of travel documents issued to the Cameroonians facing deportation, stating the documents “may not be authentic or legally valid, given the Cameroonian embassy’s explicit statement to advocates that they have not issued any such documents.”

According to the complaint, eight Cameroonian men held in the Adams County facility were scheduled to have legal calls on the mornings of Oct. 7 and 8 but were released before the calls took place.

“This raises grave concerns they may be in route for deportation back to deadly circumstances using potentially falsified travel documents and forms which they

allege they were forced to sign under duress,” the complaint states. “This urgent complaint focuses on these eight Cameroonian individuals who have reported in detail their abuse at the Adams County Correctional Center, and face life-threatening consequences if deported based on the forced, potentially unlawful collection of signatures and travel documents.”

CoreCivic officials said the allegations in the complaint are not true.

“The allegations contained in SPLC’s Oct. 7 letter are completely false,” said Amanda Gilchrist, director of public affairs for CoreCivic. “On Sept. 27, three of the detainees assaulted CoreCivic staff, and they were subdued. There were no injuries as a result, and no additional altercations. Each of the detainees was seen by medical personnel after the incident.”

Gilchrist said CoreCivic does not enforce immigration laws or policies and has no say in individuals’ deportations or releases.

“Those decisions are solely made by our government partners,” Gilchrist said.

Bill Barksdale, a volunteer of Natchez who regularly picks up refugees granted release from the Adams County Correction facility, said the allegations in the complaint are serious.

“Though this is an extremely serious complaint, I have always experienced everyone at CoreCivic as very professional,” Barksdale said. “In the past two months, CoreCivic has been regularly testing each detainee and has remained on top of all virus concerns. Warden (Shawn) Gillis does a tremendous job maintaining high standards.”

Barksdale noted that the incidents described in the complaint occurred in September under a previous rotation of ICE officers and that the ICE officers rotate every 45 days.

“I was able to obtain a second-hand confirmation of the essence of this complaint via some who were released the first week of October,” Barksdale said. “I understood from them that for several September weekends in a row, there were officers out of uniform who acted entirely inappropriately. However, I want to commend the current group of officers who have gone the extra mile to help the detainees and coordinate their release. All of the detainees released into my care the past 10 days commented on how respectful and diligent they are and I want to thank them for their help.”

The complaint details alleged incidents of abuse in the Adams County Correctional Facility on the Cameroonian men as reported by letter and telephone calls to immigrant rights organizations and attorneys on Sept. 27 and 28, including the following.

“ICE officers handcuffed one man or several men, brought these men to the medical unit in attempts to force signatures, then brought them to a dorm named Zulu, which is known amongst the men as a place where those who are punished are taken,” the complaint states. “ICE officers and security officers employed by CoreCivic took turns beating up the men and forcing them to sign travel documents. If the men refused to sign, ICE officers would take their thumbprint as a signature after they were restrained.

“In some instances, individuals were physically forced to place their thumbprint on documents while handcuffed, despite their physical attempts to stop this from taking place. In one incident, a man reports his fingers were broken. Multiple individuals report that some of these incidents were filmed with a hand held camera. Among the many incidents described by the named and anonymous complainants, acts of torture and coercion in order to force signatures for travel documents were described in great detail by each individual and corroborated by statements from other detained immigrants.”

The complaint goes on to quote individuals identified only by initials about the alleged abuse.

“…I was taken and locked in a room and handcuffed,” one detainee identified as B.J. states in the complaint. “The ICE officer called other officers to come to Adams. They work at Adams but were off-duty that day. He called them to come help him ‘do the job.’ Mr. … was one person called from off-duty. When they arrived, they pepper sprayed me in the eyes and Mr. … strangled me almost to the point of death. I kept telling him, ‘I can’t breathe.’ I almost died. I was coughing so much after and my throat still hurts a lot. I can’t see well still from the pepper spray. As a result of the physical violence, they were able to forcibly obtain my fingerprint on the document. I was hospitalized after the incident but they didn’t treat me at all. I tried to wash my eyes with toilet water. They did not even allow me to use a sink to wash out my eyes. I can’t see well right now.”

ICE officials said the claims were unsubstantiated.

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not comment on specific matters presented to the Office of the Inspector General, which provides independent oversight and accountability within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security,” said Sarah G. Loicano, public affairs officer ICE, New Orleans. “That said, in general, sensationalist unsubstantiated allegations, particularly those made anonymously and without any fact-checkable specifics, are irresponsible and should be treated with the greatest of skepticism.”

Loicano said ICE is committed to the safety and welfare of all those in its custody.

“ICE provides safe, humane and appropriate conditions of confinement for individuals detained in its custody,” Loicano said. “ICE has a series of detention standards that ensure that individuals with medical conditions or other specific needs receive exceptional care while in our custody, which exceed the standards of most local jails and prisons. Individuals in our custody are also provided access to legal representation, translation services, recreation and a multitude of other offerings.”

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Inspector General’s office did not respond to inquiries seeking comment for this story.