ACLU Sues Private Prison Company After Preventable Death of Asylum Seeker at Torrance Detention Facility
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The wrongful death estate of Kesley Vial, a 23-year-old Brazilian asylum seeker, has filed a lawsuit against the private prison company CoreCivic, which runs the Torrance County Detention Facility (TCDF) in Estancia, NM. Vial was held in federal immigration custody at TCDF and died from a fatal suicide attempt just over a year ago in August 2022. The lawsuit identifies serious systemic failures and shortcomings in the facility’s mental health care and charges that CoreCivic’s extreme negligence resulted in Kesley’s tragic and preventable death.
Vial’s wrongful death estate is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico and the law firm of Coyle & Benoit, PLLC.
“Kesley was such a kind person, adventurous, a collector of stories and so full of life. We are devastated by his senseless death,” said the family of Kesley Vial. “Kesley is in our thoughts every day and the wound in our hearts has not even begun to heal. Nothing will bring him back, but we know that he will never be forgotten, and he will never cease to be loved. We hope that this lawsuit brings some measure of justice in his name.”
For most of the time Vial was detained, he was held in inhumane conditions at TCDF while awaiting his deportation. He was desperate to leave the detention facility – though it meant returning to Brazil – but the date of his scheduled deportation was repeatedly postponed, and his mental health began to severely deteriorate.
On the day of his fatal suicide attempt, Vial was distraught. He expected to be imminently transferred out of TCDF to be deported but learned that morning that his deportation date had been postponed yet again. Despite his obvious signs of extreme distress, CoreCivic staff failed to take appropriate precautions. Instead, CoreCivic staff allowed him to take a bedsheet to an unoccupied cell he was not assigned to, locked him in that cell alone, and left him there unsupervised for almost 30 minutes during “count.”
“CoreCivic was responsible for keeping Kesley safe while he was detained in TCDF, but when it mattered most, staff disregarded critical red flags,” said Rebecca Sheff, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of New Mexico. “His death was preventable, and CoreCivic’s negligence led to his young life being tragically cut short.”
CoreCivic had already been on notice that it was endangering the lives of people detained in TCDF. Just prior to Vial’s death, federal inspectors issued an urgent alert in March 2022 calling for all detained individuals to be immediately removed from TCDF due to acute understaffing, as well as unhygienic and unsafe conditions. Yet the facility remained open.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detains people at the CoreCivic-operated TCDF through a contract with Torrance County.
“No one should have to experience the dangerous and cruel conditions that Kesley and other people seeking asylum in the U.S. have encountered at TCDF,” said Leonardo Castañeda, border and immigration policy advocate at the ACLU of New Mexico. “Advocates, New Mexico’s members of Congress, and the government’s own inspectors have repeatedly identified the dangerous conditions at the facility and called for its immediate closure. It’s long past time ICE terminates its contract for the Torrance facility and immediately releases all people detained there.”
The legal complaint can be found here: https://www.aclu-nm.org/sites/default/files/estate_of_kv_v._corecivic_1.pdf
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