ACLU of FL cites inhumane treatment of detainees at ICE facility in Northeast Florida

The civil liberties group has previously called on Homeland Security to address the allegations

By: - August 30, 2023 5:00 am

Then-Congressman Al Lawson addresses a crowd who gathered to protest Trump administration immigration policies in front of the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee in 2019. Photo by Mitch Perry

Attorneys for the ACLU of Florida and medical professionals made the case on Tuesday that undocumented immigrants who are being detained at an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) facility in northeast Florida continue to suffer from egregious forms of medical neglect.

On a Zoom conference call, ACLU of Florida officials said that they have tracked approximately 140 different complaints of medical neglect of individuals at Baker County Detention Center in Macclenny, which is used as an ICE detention center and is located 30 miles west of Jacksonville.

Their allegations are aimed at Armor Correctional Health Services, the medical subcontractor for the detainees that are housed there, and that ICE continues to contract with at Baker.

“We believe that this is a gross mistake that needs to be corrected immediately,” says Katie Blankenship, the legal deputy director with the ACLU of Florida. “That this contract needs to be terminated and Baker has proven over and over again that it is unable to humanely care and responsibly care for those in its charge.”

The civil liberties group submitted an administrative complaint to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) back in May, listing patterns of extreme medical neglect related to ten different detainees at Baker. They called at that time for the DHS to release the immigrants detained at the facility who were listed in their complaint, initiate an immediate investigation into the medical care provided at Baker, and call for the termination of the Intergovernmental Services Agreement between the Baker County Sheriff’s Office and ICE.

The problems that were detailed in that report included allegations of emergency hospitalizations due to misdiagnose and failure to follow standards of care; failure to identify and treat serious medical conditions; denial of medical records; undertreatment of serious medical conditions; significant and life-threatening delays in providing treatment.

On Tuesday’s call, Dr. Amy Zeidan, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, said that since 2019, she and her medical team have provided between 70 to 80 medical chart reviews to medically vulnerable individuals in detention facilities in the South.

In the case of the Baker County Detention Center, she said she assisted in reviewing four specific individual medical treatments. She said she noted that there were a number of findings that were not followed up on.

“For example, a finding of a chest x-ray. Somebody with an enlarged heart and then findings of fluid in their lungs, and that was never followed up on,” she said.

The health care provider at the Baker County Detention Center — South Florida-based Armor Correctional Health Services — has faced hundreds of lawsuits since its founding in 2004, the Jacksonville-based news website The Tributary recently reported.

During Tuesday’s Zoom conference call, Maite Garcia, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Florida, said that she wanted to highlight one particular case of an individual to illustrate the type of treatment that detainees receive at the Baker County Detention Center.

In the ACLU’s administrative complaint sent out to DHS in May, the first individual listed was Danielle Gaul, a 56 -year-old Haitian woman. But Garcia said that “Danielle Gaul” was actually a pseudonym used in that document to protect her from potential retaliation, and that the woman’s real name was Domita Gabriel.

Garcia said that Gabriel entered the Baker County Detention Center with a number of comorbidities after living in the U.S. for over 30 years. She had an immigration attorney and had a case on appeal.

“The decision to detain her we believe was flawed,” said Garcia. “There was no reason for someone like her, especially given her vulnerable state and the conditions that she had and was managing in our community to be in detention.”

Garcia went on to say that due to “endless mismanagement of her hypertension” Gabriel collapsed and was transported to a local hospital where she was stabilized. She then had a number of diagnostic tests performed that revealed a need for a follow-up visit, but instead of getting that follow-up visit, she was rushed onto a plane and sent back to Haiti.

There she experienced a decline and subsequently died, leaving behind her husband and her two adult U.S. citizen children.

“Miss Gabriel did not need to be detained,” said Garcia. “There are alternatives to detention, and she certainly faced extreme challenges at a place like Baker that had the responsibility to care for her and failed to do so.”

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Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has covered politics and government in Florida for more than two decades. Most recently he is the former politics reporter for Bay News 9. He has also worked at Florida Politics, Creative Loafing and WMNF Radio in Tampa. He was also part of the original staff when the Florida Phoenix was created in 2018.