A group of former immigration detainees at the Bristol County Reformatory are suing Sheriff Thomas Hodgson and two federal agencies for excessive use of force during a 2020 jail altercation.
Along with Hodgson, the defendants include the Superintendent Steven Souza, the Federal Department of Homeland Security, Todd Lyons, Director of Customs Enforcement for Immigration and ICE New England.
In the lawsuit, the 16 former detainees claim their Fifth and Eighth Amendment rights were violated as they were denied due process and subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.
Plaintiffs are seeking compensation and punitive damages as well as attorneys’ fees, according to the civil complaint filed in US District Court in Boston in April.
Hodgson called the lawsuit “frivolous” and had no merit.
“We will defend it vigorously and we will prevail,” he said.
Hodgson claimed the federal lawsuit was a “political attack” on him ahead of this year’s election.
The federal lawsuit comes more than a year after the The Department of Homeland Security has terminated its contract with Dartmouth prison over concerns that inmates’ civil rights have been violatedsomething from Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy ruled this to be the case in December 2020.
Plaintiffs also allege that the sheriff and his officers violated the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, committed assault and battery against inmates, and neglected to maintain the facility.
In his report, Healey found that Hodgson and his staff violated their own internal policies and protocols regarding de-escalation and the use of canine units.
The report also says staff deployed pepper spray, long-range batons and flash grenades against inmates.
The sheriff says the tactics used were “on the book” in order to regain control of the ICE facility, which he claimed the inmates started.
According to the AG report, the altercation began when Sheriff Thomas Hodgson and several officers entered the ICE facility to speak to inmates about their refusal to get tested for Covid-19.
Ten federal inmates had refused to consent to Covid testing and isolation for fear of being exposed to the virus in quarantine units, the report said. The quarantine units served the entire prison population, including people who had recently arrived from outside.
Hodgson then struggled with one of the inmates, sparking the biggest confrontation that resulted in $25,000 worth of damage to the now closed facility.
Following the incident, three of the inmates were hospitalized. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs say they continue to suffer mental and physical issues caused by the May 2020 altercation.
“All of the plaintiffs who bore the brunt of this attack suffered a series of severe physical injuries and psychological effects, including severe chest pain, limited mobility and widespread anxiety and depression which severely affected their lives and livelihoods,” the lawsuit states.
Meanwhile, Hodgson claims he suffered the only injury that day after someone allegedly hit him with a chair – an incident not shown in surveillance videos, according to Healey.
The May 2020 incident is still under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security.