The Office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey today released a scathing report that sharply faults the Bristol County Sheriff's Office for its part in a violent May 1 clash between immigrant detainees at the North Dartmouth ICE detention facility and agents of the law who answer to Sheriff Thomas Hodgson.

The Bristol County Sheriff's Office used excessive force and acted with “deliberate indifference," thereby violating the civil rights of immigrant detainees housed in Unit B of the C. Carlos Carreiro Immigration Detention Center, Healey's office said.

The AG's 60-page investigatory report describes “institutional failures and poor decisions” by leadership at the sheriff's office that culminated in a “calculated use of force” that “unnecessarily caused or risked harm to everyone involved."

Healey's Civil Rights Division on May 5 launched an investigation into the clash between 25 immigration detainees and employees of the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, including Sheriff Hodgson himself. The altercation left the detention facility badly damaged, and Hodgson at the time claimed that he and his staff had been attacked by the immigrant detainees.

“Without minimizing the fact that some of the detainees acted in a disruptive and destructive way during this conflict, the AG’s Office found that the detainees had been calm and nonviolent for an hour by the time BCSO executed a calculated use of force, which utilized a variety of weapons systems, including a flash bang grenade, pepper spray and pepper-ball, anti-riot shields, and canines,” Healey’s office said today.

Healey’s report describes the deployment of a SWAT team, the illegal use of police dogs, and the excessive use of non-lethal force, including the deployment of pepper spray against detainees who posed no immediate threat at the time of the incident.

Mary Serreze/Townsquare Media
Mary Serreze/Townsquare Media

So much pepper spray was used that two detainees had to be taken to the hospital in respiratory distress, the report states. A third detainee required emergency chest compressions to be revived, but was not taken to the hospital for a medical evaluation or assessment, and was instead placed in segregation. Pepper spray was used against detainees with serious pulmonary and respiratory conditions, the report stated.

Hodgson today struck a defiant tone and took aim at Healey.

“Shame on Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey for demonizing the corrections and law enforcement professionals at the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office with her latest politically motivated stunt,” Hodgson's office said, while claiming that the report is “littered with baseless allegations and assumptions, and was clearly written and released to advance her long-documented anti-ICE, pro-illegal immigrant political agenda.”

“Why would the AG’s staff interview community advocates but not ask Sheriff Hodgson a single question?” Hodgson’s office said.

Hodgson today claimed that corrections teams at the BCSO "risked their lives to quell a violent altercation with criminal illegal aliens on May 1 and did so with the upmost professionalism." He said his office stands by the response to the incident, "and look(s) forward to the results of the truly independent investigation currently being worked on by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General.”

In conducting its investigation, the Massachusetts Attorney General's Civil Rights Division reviewed videos from the incident, reviewed hundreds of pages of documents, and conducted interviews with BCSO staff members, detainees, their lawyers, and with advocates, family members, and friends, Healey's office said.

The incident started with the non-violent refusal of 10 ICE detainees to consent to COVID-19 testing and isolation, which then escalated into a conflict between BCSO staff and detainees, Healey’s office stated. The BCSO “used dangerous weapons against detainees who had exhibited calm and nonviolent behavior for at least an hour before the operation, unlawfully used canines, failed to take steps to de-escalate, and failed to warn the detainees before using substantial force against them."

“This callous disregard for the well-being of immigration detainees is unacceptable and must be addressed through the significant reforms we outline in our report," said Healey in a statement. "My office expects the Sheriff’s Office to implement our recommendations to ensure that the serious systemic issues we’ve identified at the facility are remedied.”

The AG’s Office recommended that the BCSO implement the following reforms:

Adopt Enhanced Policies and Procedures: Adopt enhanced language access and enhanced policies and procedures for de-escalation, conflict avoidance, and medical consultation and review before, during, and after a calculated use of force that involves chemical agents and pepper spray. Enhance reporting requirements for use of force and for health care staff following a calculated use of force. Revise and update policies related to chain of command.

Implement Robust Training: Adopt a training program that is focused on the implementation of the enhanced policies and procedures and include a training module for all staff and contractors who work on-site on diversity, inclusion, and cultural humility and working with individuals with no or limited English language proficiency.

Strengthen Policies for Housing Federal Immigration Detainees: If BCSO continues to house federal immigration detainees, adopt a training module as part of its annual in-service training on federal immigration detainees, and immediately remedy all deficiencies identified in the recent U.S. Department Homeland Security (DHS) inspection report.

Retain an Auditor or Consultant: Retain an external auditor or consultant to assess its compliance across the institution with all relevant laws, policies, and procedures that relate to the use of force, special management units, and the provision of health care.

The AG’s Office also recommended that the Department of Homeland Security terminate its partnership with the BCSO or alternatively, that the Massachusetts General Court enact legislation to prevent the Bristol County Sheriff from housing immigration detainees or participating in federal immigration enforcement in any respect.

The AG’s Office further recommended that the Massachusetts Department of Public Health conduct a review of the BCSO’s medical record-keeping practices, and that the Executive Office of Public Safety & Security conduct a robust and thorough review of the BCSO’s policies and procedures to ensure that they meet minimum regulatory requirements.

This investigation and report were handled by Assistant Attorneys General Amanda Hainsworth, Joshua Olszewski-Jubelirer and Angelica Durón, and Division Chief Abby Taylor, all of AG Healey’s Civil Rights Division.

The AG’s Office said it reserves its right to pursue litigation on some or all of the issues identified in the investigation in the event that the recommendations are not satisfactorily implemented or addressed.

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