The Record (Bergen County, NJ)
25, 2000, FRIDAY; ALL EDITIONS
LENGTH: 2221 words
ASYLUM SEEKERS SUE ELIZABETH JAILERS ;
INSCONTRACTOR HAS POLICY OF ABUSE
LLORENTE, Staff Writer
seekers have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit
alleging that they suffered beatings and other inhumane
treatment at the immigration detention center in Elizabeth.
The lawsuit against the Corrections Corporation of
America (CCA) accuses guards and supervisors of using
excessive force against the asylum seekers after they
complained about conditions. CCA is the private company that
runs the Elizabeth Detention Center under contract
with the U.S. government.
The lawsuit also
accuses Nashville-based CCA, the largest private
prison management company in the world, of having a
policy" that sanctioned "abusive
practices to control and discipline the refugees."
It further contends that the alleged abuse by CCA
employees at the
Elizabeth Detention Center echoes
longtime aggression by guards and
senior officers at
other CCA facilities.
"There's a corporate
policy encouraging a kind of use of force
illegal under American law," said W. Gaston Fairey, a
Carolina civil rights attorney who is
representing the asylum seekers.
results in the use of violence as a means of controlling
dissidence. And a result was that these two individuals were
abused, and that's putting it mildly." Citing the pending
litigation, Warden Christopher Brogna said in a written
statement that CCA could not specifically address the
charges of abuse at Elizabeth.
He said: "We
have provided a secure environment, as well as the
highest level of safety and humane treatment that can be
We take great pride in our efforts and our
staff, who are always made aware of
the importance of maintaining the
respect of the unique population for which we are
Susan Hart, a spokeswoman at CCA
headquarters in Nashville, also
declined to comment on the
lawsuit. But she said,"CCA's policy is to
least amount of force necessary to calm an individual
that could jeopardize security or harm
Hart said every CCA facility has a
grievance process for detainees
to voice complaints
about treatment, and that all allegations are
investigated. "We have zero tolerance for any excess or
unnecessary use of force," she said.
the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in
Newark, the district office that oversees the Elizabeth
Center, declined to comment.
asylum seekers, Oluwole Aboyade of Nigeria and Salah
Gaza, first publicly complained of
mistreatment in January 1999, when
they allegedly were
beaten. The accusations triggered a massive staffing
shake-up at the detention center, and led the INS to
Dafali and Aboyade to county prisons in
They also sparked renewed criticism of
the immigrant detention
system, which human
rights organizations and some members of Congress
assail as inhumane and poorly managed.
Plaintiffs list details of abuse
media interviews and in the lawsuit, Dafali charged
held him down on the floor while the
chief of security at the time
kicked him in the
face. The lawsuit adds that CCA employees kept Dafali
chained for hours to a bed in a small cell and ignored
requests for water.
Aboyade has alleged that a supervisor pushed him against
resulting in injuries to his head. He
also said there were other forms
at the hands of CCA guards and supervisors over
In one of the more serious
incidents, the lawsuit charges that
Aboyade in a filthy isolation cell after he complained
about conditions. Aboyade spent"more than seven days"in
which"had its walls, floor, and doorway
smeared with human feces and
urine,"the lawsuit said.
"I've been doing civil rights law for 20
it shocked me when I found out how
we treat non-criminal detainees who
for asylum in this country."
several other lawsuits against CCA pending in courts in
Tennessee and South Carolina. Some of the charges allege
employees hogtied juveniles at a South
Carolina correctional facility
and subjected them to
physical abuse. The Tennessee suit contends that
employees beat inmates at a prison in that state and
tortured one by using electrical devices on his genitals.
"This kind of conduct, violence and the
threat of violence," Fairey
said,"seems to be CCA's
manner of doing business."
Hart said CCA plans
to "vigorously contest those claims" in South
Carolina. "We don't believe they have any merit. "She said
employees were terminated for
"inappropriate use of force" in the
Tennessee prison. Hart
said she could not discuss such cases in detail
because litigation is pending.
concerning the Elizabeth Detention Center does not name
the INS as a defendant and was filed in U.S. District
center in the spotlight
Most detainees at the
300-bed Elizabeth center arrived at airports
region without valid documents and requested political
Federal laws mandate the detention of such
individuals until they are
given political asylum,
deported, or released to family or friends while awaiting a
decision on their asylum requests.
has been 1 NEW3 under a national spotlight since
1995, when more than 100 detainees rioted to protest
inhumane conditions. The INS released a report confirming
the charges of mistreatment, censured the private
contractor, Esmor Correctional Services, and shut the center.
The INS reopened it in 1997 under CCA, and
pledged to turn it into a
Immigration advocates acknowledge that the center is nothing
to the dysfunctional place it was in 1995.
But problems have persisted,
widely publicized hunger strikes, an Albanian
detainee's apparent suicide, and a string of senior-level
Last year, CCA vehemently
denied the charges by Aboyade and Dafali,
that their own reviews showed no wrongdoing. In
The Record last year, CCA officials said
that in the Jan. 28 incidents,
both men were
agitated and that guards used appropriate force. They also
dismissed Aboyade's other charges of mistreatment.
But the INS considered the charges worrisome
enough to take
dramatic steps. At the agency's
insistence, CCA transferred the chief of security, Darwin C.
Mitchell, to a non-INS facility in Arizona and barred two
supervisors and six officers from going near detainees. The
warden at the time, Karen Nicholson, left after 11
months on the job, citing personal reasons.
All but two of the eight CCA employees who were
internally have left the center, INS
officials say. Mitchell, who was
chief of security at a
CCA criminal facility in Arizona, died in
The INS has stepped up its presence at
the detention center, more
than doubling the
number of its on-site supervisors from seven last year
to 15 this year. The agency also plans to install
more video monitors, which will allow INS supervisors
a broader view of detainee dormitories and
The FBI reviewed charges last year
lawsuit comes as the U.S. Department of Justice is
investigating possible criminal civil rights violations at the
center in relation to the charges by Aboyade and Dafali.
Christine Di Bartolo, a spokeswoman for the
Department of Justice
in Washington, D.C., declined to
discuss details of the investigation.
matter is open and under review," she said.
FBI officials in Newark reviewed the charges last
year, but then
said they were not pursuing an
investigation. Later, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Newark
handled the case, INS officials said. The U.S. Attorney's
Office declined to comment. It is unclear whether other
agencies have been involved in the case, or why one passed
the matter to another. All these agencies, including
the INS, fall under the U.S.
Lynn Durko, spokeswoman for the Newark
office of the INS, said:
"Those investigations are
separate from us. We don't know how they
The lawsuit and other problems
apparently have not hurt the
partnership between the INS
and CCA. The INS recently renewed its
multimillion-dollar Elizabeth contract with CCA, and also signed CCA
house 800 detainees in San Diego. The INS
consistently has characterized the problems at the Elizabeth
center as isolated ones, not reflective of systemic
flaws. The agency notes that the center has American
Correctional Association accreditation.
Menendez, a Democrat whose district includes Elizabeth,
said he hopes the justice system clarifies whether
mistreatment occurred at the center. But ultimately, he said,
the INS bears the greatest responsibility.
"It's through the INS's power that people are
detained,"Menendez said."They have a clear responsibility for how
the detention center is run and what a contractor
does under its supervision."
Fairey said his
clients are seeking an unspecified amount of money.
But more important, Fairey said, the men hope to
heighten awareness of
the pitfalls of putting
immigrant detainees in the hands of private
"It appears that more and more private
correctional systems use
excessive force as control
techniques," said Fairey." The private prison business is a
competitive market where companies cut costs by cutting
corners on salaries and training."
officials defended their training and salaries.
Brogna, the warden at Elizabeth, said that prospective
undergo an intense background
investigation. Successful candidates
receive 160 hours of
training, he said, and complete an additional 40
of instruction each year with emphasis on safety and
Fairey said, "If the court determines
that CCA does have the policy
and I'm not talking
about a written policy, that we're alleging, we
hope the INS and other government agencies will take a
good, hard look
at the conduct of privat