On June 20, West Palm Beach resident Valery Joseph died while in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Glades County Detention Center in Moore Haven, Florida. The 23-year-old Haitian immigrant had been living in the US since he was eight, said his mother, Jacqueline Fleury. At a news conference in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood on July 8, the day Joseph would have turned 24, US Rep. Kendrick Meek joined Joseph’s family members and immigrant rights advocates in calling for an independent investigation into what Meek called Joseph’s “untimely death.”
According to ICE documents obtained by the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center (FIAC), Glades County Jail staff were delivering medication to Joseph on the morning of June 20 when he was found unresponsive in his bunk. Joseph could not be resuscitated and was pronounced dead at 10:54 AM. An autopsy was performed on June 22. (Miami Herald, July 8; Bradenton Herald, July 8 from AP; South Florida Sun-Sentinel, July 9)
On July 3, Rep. Meek wrote to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) inspector general to request a formal investigation into Joseph’s death and the manner in which ICE handled it. “What’s even more disturbing is the manner in which ICE officials ordered an autopsy of Mr. Joseph’s body even before notifying the family of his death,” Meek said in the letter. (SF Sun-Sentinel, July 9)
Fleury did not learn of her son’s death until several days later. (MH, July 8) “No one from immigration or jail called me when my son died,” said Fleury in a statement read by Joseph’s sister, Sandy Jules. Fleury said the family found out because a chaplain called Joseph’s girlfriend, who then called his family. A letter from ICE stating that Joseph had suffered a seizure came a week later. (BH, July 8 from AP)
The funeral home told Fleury that Joseph’s body was not suitable for viewing, and as of July 8—18 days after Joseph’s death—Fleury had yet to see his body, Little said. Preliminary results of the autopsy indicate that Joseph died from a seizure, according to Little. (MH, July 8) Joseph’s death remains under investigation and autopsy results are pending, according to Robert DeMann, chief deputy of corrections for the Glades County Sheriff’s Office. “We do know there’s no indication of any foul play, no trauma,” DeMann said.
Little said that Joseph “suffered from seizures,” and that the extent of his medical care in detention was not immediately clear. Joseph had not complained of any illness when he last called his mother in West Palm Beach a few days before he died, said Jules.
FIAC and Joseph’s family have filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking his medical records from ICE. (BH, July 8 from AP) Details about the death will become clearer once the agency hands over Joseph’s medical records, Little said. “We’re hoping we’re not getting the run around and these records are provided to the family,” she said. “Lack of access to adequate medical care is among one of the chief complaints we hear from detainees in South Florida and elsewhere,” Little noted.
Little said an immigration judge had indicated Joseph might have been eligible for release; a hearing had been scheduled on his case for July 3. (MH, July 8) West Palm Beach police had arrested Joseph for felony robbery in May 2007, and ICE spokesperson Nicole Navas said Joseph was identified the following month through an ICE program that checks for undocumented immigrants held in jails. Joseph was transferred from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office to ICE custody on Dec. 28, 2007. (SF Sun-Sentinel, July 9)
Navas responded to complaints about Joseph’s death by attacking FIAC, a well-respected immigration legal services and advocacy organization. “This [is] another attempt by advocacy groups such as FIAC to tout emotion over fact from their bully pulpit,” Navas said in a written statement. “There is no lack of medical care for those held in detention. In fact, quite the opposite.” (MH, July 8)
The $32 million, 440-bed Glades County Detention Center, where Joseph died, opened in mid-2007 to house ICE detainees along with local inmates. The facility has a medical staff of 20. (FloridaTrend.com, Oct. 1, 2007)
From Immigration News Briefs, July 13
See our last post on the politics of immigration.