Riot At Massachusetts Jail Over COVID Tests

DARTMOUTH, Mass. (WBZ NewsRadio) — Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy III is calling for an immediate independent investigation into a riot that broke out at an immigrant detention center in Bristol County on Friday night.

According to Rep. Kennedy's office, the "violent altercation" involved ten immigrant detainees, with "conflicting reports" emerging between Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson and the detainees and their lawyers.

The Sheriff's office says the inmates had reported showing symptoms of COVID-19. After allegedly refusing to be tested for the virus, which they were told was required, The Sun Chronicle reports the inmates "rushed violently" at corrections officers.

The detainees then allegedly barricaded themselves inside the facility, ripped washing machines and pipes off the wall, smashed windows, and started attacking officers.

Bristol County security team were eventually able to regain control of the situation. While no Bristol County personnel were injured, three inmates were treated and are expected to be fine.

According to a lawyer representing the detainees, "Sheriff Thomas Hodgson has long deployed inhumane tactics at BCHOC, provoking frequent conflicts with inmates, lawsuits, and investigations, far more so than other jails in the Massachusetts Department of Correction system."

In a statement, the detainees' lawyer says "it appears that Correctional Officers attempted to transport [the] individuals ... to the medical wing. These individuals were justifiably concerned that doing so would dangerously expose them to risk of infection given the cross-contamination with many different individuals from all over the facility who come and go from the medical unit and with many shared surfaces."

The statement adds "the Sheriff’s office attempted to forcibly move an individual and the conflict escalated, including the arrival of more officers, the deployment of guards in riot gear, and the use of dogs and either tear gas or pepper spray. Sheriff Hodgson was himself on the scene and according to multiple reports, was directly involved in the conflict with class members."

The ACLU says it is concerned the inmates' rights may have been violated after it received "reports of an incident involving pepper spray and dogs within the @ICEgov detainee units at the Bristol County HOC."

In a statement, ACLU Massachusetts' executive director Carol Rose called the reports of the riot "deeply disturbing," adding that "immigration detention has expanded at record levels under the Trump administration; now more than ever, we will not allow the increasingly horrific conditions of ICE detention to be normalized.”

Rep. Kennedy is calling for an independent investigation, and for the release of the jail's surveillance footage.

“Given the conflicting reports coming from all involved, there needs to be an immediate, independent investigation into what occurred last night at the Bristol County House of Corrections," said Rep. Kennedy in a statement. "All people held at this facility deserve to be treated with humanity and dignity."

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(Photo: Getty Images)

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