On January 27, a man in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody at the Krome Detention Center in Homestead called an abuse helpline to report that he'd been beaten by guards.
Herby Yves Pierre-Gilles, a 35-year-old from Haiti, told a volunteer with the National Immigration Detention Hotline that he'd been physically assaulted while receiving mental-health treatment at Krome a few days after Christmas. Pierre-Gilles described being stripped, choked, and punched by security officers.
"Mr. Pierre-Gilles called and shared shocking testimony to an attack he faced," says Sofia Casini, the advocacy director for Freedom for Immigrants, which runs the hotline. "He wanted to make a report. He wanted justice and a real investigation to take place."
Pierre-Gilles said a guard had kneed him in the face and split his lip. He described having his clothing and underwear violently torn from his body by another while several guards watched. He also reported a third officer slamming him to the ground, getting on top of him, and choking him, according to Bud Conlin of the nonprofit Immigrant Action Alliance.
The guards at Krome are employed by Akima Global Services, an ICE contractor that provides security at the detention center.
Yesterday, immigration advocates sent a complaint to ICE's Miami Field Office director, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and the DHS Office of Inspector General demanding an investigation.
"Mr. Pierre-Gilles reported...that he suffered from a burst lip in two places, several lumps on his head, and bruising on his face, forehead and eye," the complaint says. "If medical staff was consulted, we are deeply concerned by the lack of protection and immediate danger that detainees with special needs face while in mental-health units."
The complaint says Pierre-Gilles was receiving mental-health treatment necessitated by "a psychological emergency after a recent transfer from a criminal facility." Court records show he had been transferred to ICE custody after serving a ten-year prison sentence in a carjacking case.
An ICE spokesperson tells New Times that the agency can't comment on the alleged attack, citing an ongoing investigation. Akima Global Services did not respond to an email seeking comment.
ICE's detention standards say use of force is acceptable to a degree that is "necessary and reasonable to gain control of a detainee or provide for self-defense or defense of a third person." The agency's standards say that various levels of force "may be necessary and reasonable, depending on the totality of the circumstances."
"Where have we heard that before?" Casini counters, noting that Pierre-Gilles is Black. "Our nation just went through a year of examining the ways people in authority harm Black people while claiming, 'I was at risk. This person was a threat' — people who are Black and unarmed and at their mercy."
"I would ask what justification they had that they felt there was a risk," she adds. "[Pierre-Gilles] was stripped naked and choked in a mental-health ward. Nothing in his accounts leads me to believe he was posing a direct threat. It's not acceptable that Black immigrants in Krome are left to suffer this level of violence because others state that they were afraid."
ICE's detention standards prohibit neck restraints "unless deadly force would be authorized" and ban the use of physical force or restraints as punishment. Medical staffers are also supposed to be consulted prior to guards using force on a detained person with special medical or mental-health needs. The complaint on behalf of Pierre-Gilles argues that what happened to him violates all of those standards.
Casini and Conlin call the incident an assault and say it's representative of a broader pattern of violence by ICE officers against Black immigrants.
In 2019, the Southern Poverty Law Center and Americans for Immigrant Justice interviewed people in immigration detention centers in Florida. Some said that guards regularly used slurs and made racist comments toward them. In an infamous 2017 deportation flight, immigrants from Somalia reported being shackled by their wrists and legs for more than 40 hours, beaten and threatened by guards, and forced to urinate on themselves.
Most recently, ICE canceled a deportation flight from Louisiana to Cameroon last week after allegations surfaced that officers had used violence and threats to force people in custody to sign documents that would have led to their deportation, despite the threat of torture or incarceration they face in their native country.
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