Correctional center death leads to lawsuit

Family files lawsuit in death of inmate

A lawsuit has been filed over the death of an inmate at Hudson County Correctional Center.
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A lawsuit has been filed over the death of an inmate at Hudson County Correctional Center.

The family of Carlos Bonilla, 47, a father of four who died as a result of internal bleeding in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention, has filed a lawsuit against Hudson County and those responsible for his medical care while he was confined to immigration detention at Hudson County Correctional Center.

Bonilla’s youngest daughter was eight years old when he died. He had a scheduled bond hearing in his immigration case but was never able to make his argument for release. Instead, he was hospitalized with severe internal bleeding and died two days later, just over two months after he’d been arrested by ICE and confined at Hudson County Correctional Center.

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and Dechert LLP filed a civil rights and tort lawsuit in federal court on May 30 in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey arising out of Bonilla’s wrongful death. The suit details how Hudson County; Hudson County Correctional Center; CFG Health Systems (the contracted medical provider at the time); individuals in charge at those entities; and individual medical providers responsible for treating Mr. Bonilla “egregiously failed to evaluate or treat deadly complications from cirrhosis, a chronic and life-threatening liver disease.”

A history of neglect

There have been more than 17 deaths since 2013 at Hudson County Correctional Center. Multiple reports have detailed a long history of serious problems with medical care at the facility.

Mejia-Bonilla was using the name Rolando Meza Espinoza, who was supposedly an immigrant from Honduras, when he was arrested by ICE agents on a construction site on Long Island. The immigration enforcement officers were trying to find a different man by that same name who was supposed to be deported in 2005.

Mejia-Bonilla reportedly told the authorities that they had the wrong person, but he was locked up at the Hudson County Correctional Facility where he eventually died.

His family believes the lack of care may have led to his death.

At least two reports at the time revealed problems with the facility’s medical care.

Federal immigration officials said in a release that Mejia-Bonilla “died of complications of a previous medical condition.”

While incarcerated, Mejia-Bonilla informed his family that he was worried about his health and that he wasn’t receiving the medication he needed.

The family waits

On June 8, Mejia-Bonilla’s family was waiting in court for him to appear at his bond hearing, but he never showed. They tracked down a jail officer and learned he had been taken to Jersey City Medical Center.

“Prior to his detention, Mr. Bonilla received medical treatment in the community for complications of cirrhosis,” the lawsuit claims. The suit also claims that Hudson County Correctional Center was aware that Bonilla had been diagnosed with serious medical conditions and had a history of prescribed medications to manage complications of cirrhosis.

“Mr. Bonilla had multiple interactions with medical staff at the Hudson County Correctional Center, including requesting additional medical care. Nevertheless, Defendants did not have a medical plan for him or provide evaluation or care for Mr. Bonilla’s cirrhosis,” according to the lawsuit

The lawsuit seeks to hold defendants accountable for Mr. Bonilla’s untimely death, and to recover damages for his children.

Human rights crisis

Marinda van Dalen, senior attorney at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, said: “The deep deficiencies in medical care provided to people in immigration detention have serious and even life-threatening results, as illustrated tragically by the case of Carlos Bonilla.”

“There is a human rights crisis in detention facilities in this country,” said Maureen Belluscio, senior attorney at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “Hudson County, Hudson County Correctional Center, and CFG have a history of failing to provide adequate medical care to the people detained there and must be held accountable. We bring this case on behalf of Mr. Bonilla’s family to right that very serious wrong that resulted in Mr. Bonilla’s death.”

“He should never have been in our facility,” said Freeholder Bill O’Dea, who also explained that one of the problems involved delays imposed by ICE’s procedures. “The process that ICE has – you need to get their approval before certain medical procedures can be done — makes no sense. That’s part of the reason why things like this sometimes happen.

Lapses at the correctional center

Two reports issued early last year shed light on conditions at the Hudson County Correctional Center as county officials probed the deaths of five inmates in eight months from 2016 to 2017.

A county-commissioned report claimed that inmates may have been assigned tasks involving patients, and that one suicidal inmate was not adequately supervised. Inmates with medial issues were often not provided with the proper care.

Hudson County made massive changes to the facility as a result of these reports, including the creation of a suicide task force. The county replaced the medical care provider.

“We put millions into physical changes to the medical facility, improved the psychiatric and replaced the medical provider. This death was probably the deciding factor in replacing the medical provider,” O’Dea said. “I believe the steps will significantly impact something like this happening again in the future. As a result of this case, we made a policy that County would no longer wait for ICE to authorize certain medical procedures. We will get it done, and then fight ICE to get reimbursed later.”

The facility has seen a recent increase in the number of prisoners. More than 100 detainees were admitted this month as a result of immigration arrests on the Mexican border.

“They don’t have room for them out West, so they are sending them to us,” O’Dea said.

This will impose additional medical challenges, he said, because in some cases many have not had proper medical care from their country of origins.

For updates on this and other stories check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Al Sullivan can be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com