Andre Taylor and Rollin Manning were working kitchen duty last Tuesday at the Glades County Detention Center just west of Lake Okeechobee when they suddenly began to feel dizzy. By lunchtime, Taylor, Manning, and several other men — all detained and incarcerated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — had to sit down on the ground owing to headaches and nausea.
Before lunch could be served, four ICE detainees and one kitchen staffer had fainted and were rushed to the hospital for carbon monoxide inhalation. Two of the victims were later airlifted elsewhere.
"I could hardly breathe. I was nauseous, weak, and had a headache. I still feel shaky and have pain in my chest," Manning tells New Times
from Krome Detention Center in Miami, where ICE transferred him after he was discharged from the hospital.
The carbon monoxide exposure is only the latest incident at a detention center whose closure immigrant advocates have already been calling for, citing alleged human rights abuses
and lack of care for detained persons
during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Duane Pottorff, chief deputy for the Glades County Sheriff's Office, tells New Times
that one of the exhaust fans on a piece of kitchen equipment was not activated on Tuesday, leading to a buildup of carbon monoxide, a colorless and odorless gas, which can cause
headaches, weakness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, confusion, loss of consciousness, brain damage, and even death.
ICE spokesperson Nestor Yglesias tells New Times
via email that the four detainees and the kitchen staffer were transported to Hendry Regional Medical Center by emergency medical services, and that two of the men needed additional treatment. Manning tells New Times
he was airlifted to AdventHealth hospital in Orlando. Yglesias says that the other detainee was sent to St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach.
Yglesias adds that the other four detainees were returned to ICE facilities after being treated.
Pottorff says his office is conducting an internal investigation to learn whether the exhaust fan had been turned off by mechanical or human error. The kitchen reopened shortly after the incident, once Glades County Fire Rescue declared it safe. A carbon monoxide monitor has since been installed at the facility.
"It was deemed safe by the fire marshal, I wanna say by the next day. There are people currently working in the kitchen," Pottorff says.
In a statement released via Americans for Immigrant Justice's legal services hotline
, Taylor says he was sent back to work in the kitchen that same evening. He says medical staff checked his vitals and gave him an Ibuprofen for his headache. Though medical staffers have called him in each day since the incident to check his blood pressure and vitals, Taylor told advocates he has yet to speak to an ICE officer.
Rebecca Talbot, an advocate for the Immigrant Action Alliance
, a local nonprofit that assists people detained in ICE custody, says the carbon monoxide incident is indicative of the neglect detainees at the Glades County Detention Center face on a regular basis.
"Glades is a facility that constantly puts people's lives at risk," says Talbot. "This is one horrific and egregious example, but it's part of a pattern of carelessness with people's lives, and another reason why this facility needs to be shut down immediately."