ACLU Seeks Hodgson Video in Court Battle
The ACLU of Massachusetts remains locked in a court battle with the Bristol County Sheriff's Office as it seeks the public release of video, photos, incident reports, emails and other evidence that might shine light upon a violent altercation at the C. Carlos Carreiro Immigration Detention Center.
Seven months after the chaotic May 1 incident, no records relevant to the event have been released for public viewing. The ACLU in May filed its document request under Massachusetts Public Records Law, the office of Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson denied the request, and the civil liberties lawyers followed up with a lawsuit in Suffolk Superior Court.
In the latest round of court filings, the ACLU asks a judge to schedule a status conference, and the sheriff's office argues against the idea, charging that the quest for public records is politically motivated. The BCSO further maintains that assembling emails and other documents would be "onerous," and that all records should be withheld from public view because the altercation remains "under investigation."
The ACLU counters that there's no real evidence in the judge's hands that the matter remains under investigation. Probes by Attorney General Maura Healey and the state Senate's Post Audit and Oversight Committee have already concluded, and the status of a separate investigation by the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security remains ambiguous.
Hodgson's office answers that it has no way of knowing when an investigation by the DHS watchdog will wrap up. The "unbiased, impartial investigation of the Incident" by Homeland Security "should be permitted to conclude prior to the disclosure of records requested to the ACLUM," the sheriff's lawyers wrote.
The ACLU further contends that even if the matter is under investigation, it gives the sheriff's office no right to withhold all records about the matter from the public.
The litigation is complicated.
In June, a judge ordered the sheriff's office to release documents to the ACLU under a protective order so they could be reviewed for compliance with public records law. The court also asked the BCSO to provide an update on any pending investigations. The ACLU claims that Hodgson's office has not complied with that order.
During the May 1 altercation, security forces with the office of Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson deployed pepper spray, pepper ball and police dogs in a melee involving 25 immigrant detainees, some of whom had previously vandalized the unit, Healey's six-month investigation found. The operation sent three immigrant detainees to the hospital. Healey in her Dec. 15 report concluded that Hodgson and his officers used excessive force and violated the civil rights of the detainees.
Healey recently sent a letter to the court saying her investigation had wrapped up, and enclosed a copy of her report. And her office continues to say it supports the ACLU's quest to gain public release of the documents.
“The public should have access to the video and other records from the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office related to this incident. We support the release of this evidence," said Emalie Gainey, an AG Healey spokesperson, in a statement provided to WBSM News. "Since this is a public records matter in active litigation, and there are complex considerations related to the privacy and safety of the detainees and BCSO staff, we sent a letter supporting the ACLU’s efforts to get a court order for the release of this evidence."
Asked why Healey's office does not release its own trove of investigatory documents to the public, Gainey said it's best if the court decides what should be made public, and what should be withheld. She said that's in order to respect the privacy of individuals who might be identified in videos, and to otherwise comply with the state's public records law. Many unredacted documents, including video, were voluntarily provided to the AGO by counsel for the sheriff's office.
The ACLU claims that as long as the documents and video are withheld, it lets Hodgson give the public and the media a selective view of what happened.
"BCSO's refusal to release these records, as well as its noncompliance with this court's order, has allowed the BCSO to continue to make public statement characterizing the incident without the fear of contradiction that would exist if the underlying records were available," lawyers for the ACLU wrote.
Hodgson for his part has struck a defiant tone. On he Dec. 16 he hosted reporters at the Bristol County House of Correction where he called Healey a "political hack," claimed her report contained lies, and said he would place her recommendations for reform "halfway down the sewer pipe."
A spokesman for Hodgson could not be immediately reached on Tuesday, but court filings indicate that Hodgson believes Healey's office and the ACLU are in cahoots and trying to vilify him via a "politically motivated" public records battle. His lawyers argue that Healey's report is prejudicial to the public records lawsuit and should not have been submitted to the court.
The ACLU has cast a wide net in its quest for documents. Among other things, it seeks any emails between the sheriff's office and federal agencies – including the Department of Homeland Security and the Executive Office of the President – concerning the incident.
Hodgson is a close ally of President Donald Trump and served as the president's honorary campaign chairman in Massachusetts. The Bristol County Sheriff's Office holds a contract with ICE to house immigrant detainees at its North Dartmouth county jail facility. Healey in her report is recommending that the contract be rescinded.