A federal judge on Thursday ruled that Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson exhibited “deliberate indifference” toward the health of civil detainees at the C. Carlos Carreiro Immigration Detention Center during the coronavirus crisis.

Judge William G. Young ordered COVID-19 testing for all inmates and staff at the facility, including Hodgson himself, at the expense of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency with jurisdiction over the detention center. Young further banned the admission of any more detainees into the Bristol County House of Corrections ICE lockup facility. Young issued the ruling following a two-hour teleconference Thursday in Boston.

It's the latest chapter in a class action lawsuit seeking release of all Bristol County ICE detainees during the pandemic. The lawsuit, filed by the group Lawyers for Civil Rights, has drawn national attention. In recent weeks, Young has approved the release of 50 immigrants from the immigrant detention center on Faunce Corner Road.

Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, hailed yesterday's decision. "This is a major victory for immigrants enduring life-threatening conditions during this unprecedented crisis," he wrote. He said the federal court held that ICE and the Bristol County Sheriff "likely violated the constitutional rights of immigrants in their care."

Hodgson on Twitter blasted the decision, claimed Young overstepped his authority, and said his office has asked the U.S. Justice Department to seek an emergency stay of the judge's order.

The lawsuit, known as Savino v. Souza, was filed in March on behalf of two detainees in Bristol County and a proposed class of all other persons held by ICE at Bristol. The suit charges that the detainees are at imminent risk of COVID-19 infection exacerbated by alleged unsafe conditions, including jail staff who reported to work with symptoms, new ICE admissions transferred into the facility without testing, and inadequate supplies including soap and hand sanitizer.

Hodgson has blasted activists, lawyers and others who back those claims as promoting a "false narrative" and "socialist agenda." On Twitter yesterday Hodgson said that federal health guidelines have been followed at the Bristol County jail.

"If following CDC guidelines is a violation of detainee rights, then everyone in America following CDC guidelines has had their rights violated," Hodgson stated. The Bristol County Sheriff's Office runs the detention center under a contract with ICE.

Judge Young did not permit lawyers to discuss circumstances surrounding last Friday's chaotic altercation between guards and detainees at the facility. The circumstances surround that incident remain unclear, and federal and state investigations are now pending. The incident left the Unit B lockup badly damaged. In recent days Young ruled that the hearing would remain narrow in scope, and focus on COVID-19 testing considerations.

Young will continue to consider the release of more detainees in the coming days.

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