Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey on Wednesday took aim at statements made by Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson where he blasted the AG's explosive 60-page report that wrapped up her office's six-month investigation into what happened during a violent May 1 altercation at the sheriff's ICE lockup facility in North Dartmouth.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, the Republican sheriff attacked the Democratic attorney general's report on the conflict at the C. Carlos Carreiro Immigration Detention Center as “baseless” and “politically motivated,” called Healey a "political hack," and accused her of "creating a false narrative of the incident."

Healey's report accused Hodgson and his officers of violating detainees’ civil rights during a chaotic melee involving dogs and pepper spray that sent two men to the hospital with respiratory distress and left another with an apparent heart attack. That man was revived from unconsciousness via emergency chest compression and never transported to the hospital, the report found.

Mary Serreze/Townsquare Media
Mary Serreze/Townsquare Media

Healey late Wednesday released a statement that refuted the sheriff's string of accusations, including his assertion that the report contained falsehoods:

“My office conducted an extensive and unbiased investigation into the May 1, 2020 incident at the Bristol County Jail and House of Correction, and our findings are based on solid evidence from our review of multiple videos of the incident, hundreds of pages of documents, and interviews with more than a dozen BCSO staff members who were involved," Healey said. "Just because Sheriff Hodgson does not like my office’s factual findings does not make them any less reliable or true."

Healey suggested that Hodgson himself failed to fully cooperate with the investigation:

"If the Sheriff disputes the accuracy of our findings, he should immediately release all of the video footage, incident reports, and other evidence related the incident to the public – instead he is fighting against their release in court. Every day that Sheriff Hodgson does not implement much-needed reforms at the facility, he is risking the lives of every single person there, detainees and his own staff alike.”

Emalie Gainey, a spokesperson for Healey, later added that Hodgson himself supplied a detailed written report to the AGO and spoke to the media about the incident immediately after the fact. As such, the AG's office was familiar with the sheriff's version of events. Hodgson knew about the AG's investigation and was "free to reach out at any time," she said.

The investigators instead focused their resources on querying individuals whose involvement was less clear, such as Superintendent Steven J. Souza, who runs the facility on a day-to-day basis, Gainey said.

The attorney general's office interviewed 13 BCSO employees who participated in the incident, including Souza, commanding officers of the Bristol County Special Response Team and the Canine Division, the facility's Watch Commander, Director of Medical Services, and several corrections officers.

Hodgson has refused to publicly turn over video and other evidence related to the incident, Gainey said, adding that Hodgson has been sued by the ACLU over the release of these records.

"Healey's office supports the release of that video and other evidence through that court process," Gainey stated.

Regarding Hodgson’s description of detainees as “criminal illegal aliens,” the men were held at Bristol to await civil immigration proceedings and not because they were charged with or convicted of a crime, Gainey emphasized.

AGO Report Excerpt
AGO Report Excerpt

The "calculated use of force" was launched about an hour after some detainees vandalized the facility. The vandalism followed an earlier visit from Hodgson, who participated in a botched and chaotic attempt to force some of the men to leave the unit for COVID-19 testing and solitary confinement. During that incident, Hodgson scuffled with a detainee who was on the phone with his lawyer, dramatically escalating tensions, the AG's office found. While walking to the exit door with various BCSO staffers, Hodgson was reportedly struck by a plastic chair that was thrown into the air by a detainee.

By the time the sheriff returned again with a full security staff, the men had calmed down and posed no immediate threat, the report stated. The report alleges that Souza "conveyed inaccurate and misleading information" about the threat level to the SRT and K-9 units. This included demonstrably false information that the detainees were armed with makeshift weapons, false information that all 25 detainees had engaged in vandalism, and stale information that the destruction was ongoing, the AG's report states.

The calculated use of force event violated the Bristol County Sheriff's Office's own rules, and also violated rules set down by the Department of Homeland Security for entities with contracts to operate immigrant detention facilities, the report states.

The planned exercise was marked by "unreasonable force," including a flash bang grenade, pepper-ball launchers, and canines against detainees who were not assaulting, combating, or actively resisting staff, the AG's office maintains.

The report concluded that the BCSO violated the civil rights of detainees in two distinct ways - by applying constitutionally excessive force to the ICE B detainees and by acting with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm to the detainees' health and safety.

Healey's office recommended a series of reforms at the Bristol County House of Correction, reserved the right to take legal action, and asked that the Department of Homeland Security terminate its contract with the Bristol County Sheriff's Office to house immigrant detainees at the C. Carlos Carreiro Detention Center.

"In view of the clear evidence that the BCSO violated (federal) detention standards, we urge DHS to terminate its partnership with the BCSO and immediately transfer all federal immigration detainees held at the BCSO other detention facilities," the report recommends.

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