Colorado: ex-ICE detainee wins settlement

In a Dec. 17 press release, Colorado’s Park County announced it would pay $1.5 million to settle a lawsuit brought in February 2005 by Moises Carranza-Reyes, who was held in federal immigration custody at the county’s Fairplay jail for seven days in 2003. According to the suit, Carranza-Reyes, now 31, was held in a filthy, freezing jail pod designed for 18 people, but holding 60.

He was issued a “foul-smelling,” dirty uniform and forced to sleep on the floor on a mattress soiled with vomit and feces between two inmates who were so sick that he had to feed them, his lawyers said. Carranza-Reyes soon came down with a strep infection and began complaining of aches and chills. Four days later, medical staff finally took him to the Denver Health Medical Center; by then he had developed pneumonia and his legs were black with gangrene. The infection led to a heart attack and coma; doctors reportedly gave Carranza-Reyes a 2% chance of survival. He ultimately recovered, but his gangrenous left leg had to be amputated and part of a lung removed.

The defendants included Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener and Undersheriff Monte Gore, who ran the jail at the time, along with jail nurse Vicki Paulsen. Park County rejected Carranza-Reyes’ accusations of “inhumane conditions” and medical neglect at the jail. “Neither Park County nor any of its officials or employees admit any liability and have denied Carranza Reyes’ charges,” said the press release. The settlement prohibits all parties from discussing the agreement, although the documents filed in the case are part of the public record.

Park County Attorney Lee Phillips said the entire amount of the settlement would be paid by the county’s insurance company, the Denver-based nonprofit County Technical Services Inc., or CTSI, owned by its Colorado member counties. (Park County Republican & Fairplay Flume, Bailey, Dec. 17; Rocky Mountain News, Denver, Dec. 19) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) continues to have a detainee-housing agreement with Park County and the jail is inspected by the agency annually to ensure it complies with ICE’s “strict detention standard,” said ICE spokesperson Carl Rusnok. Carranza-Reyes’ attorneys say Park County improved jail conditions shortly after their client’s detention.

Carranza-Reyes, a former Mexico City police sergeant, was arrested March 1, 2003, in Rifle, Colorado with his brother Abraham and several other immigrants in a truck headed for Chicago. Carranza-Reyes and his brother were hoping to work there and reunite with their father, a US citizen. Carranza-Reyes now lives in Colorado, and according to his attorneys is “financially desperate, is unemployed, and in desperate need of medical care.” Federal authorities paid most of Carranza-Reyes’ $1 million medical bill, but he “continues to suffer unbearable pain” from nerve damage in both legs and requires physical therapy and possibly more surgeries, according to court papers. ICE has allowed Carranza-Reyes to remain in the US while he recuperated, although his attorneys said in court filings he is now “in danger of deportation.”

Carranza-Reyes’ legal team, including the Washington-based advocacy group Public Justice, say he was victimized by Park County’s aggressive attempt to profit by leasing jail bed space to state and federal authorities. “Park County Jail attempted to boost its net revenues by cutting basic human essentials, such as medical care, heat, clean laundry, and clean housing,” co-counsel Bill Trine of Boulder said in 2005. “As a result of prison profiteering, we’re seeing human rights abuses that we’d never expect to see in this country.” (RMN, Dec. 19)

From Immigration News Briefs, Jan. 6

See our last post on the politics of immigration.