ESTANCIA, N.M. (KRQE) – The federally-owned Torrance County Detention Center is once again facing allegations of poor and unsafe conditions. The operators of the facility that houses detained immigrants are the focus of a new lawsuit over a death in 2022.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico (ACLU-NM) is helping the family of Kesley Vial, a 23-year-old who died after a suicide attempt at the facility in 2022. The law firm Coyle & Benoit, PLLC. is also representing Vial’s estate in filing a lawsuit.
Vial was an asylum-seeker from Brazil. ACLU-NM claims Vial was housed in “inhumane conditions” and was “desperate to leave the facility.” The lawsuit claims that Vial did have a history of anxiety, depression, and had previously attempted suicide. But after his scheduled deportation date was postponed multiple times, his mental health began to deteriorate, ACLU-NM says.
The lawsuit being brought against CoreCivic, a private company that operates the detention center, claims that with insufficient staffing, CoreCivic staff failed to properly watch and care for Vial, ultimately leading to his death.
“CoreCivic was responsible for keeping Kesley safe while he was detained in TCDF [the facility], but when it mattered most, staff disregarded critical red flags,” Rebecca Sheff, the senior staff attorney at the ACLU-NM, said in a press release. “His death was preventable, and CoreCivic’s negligence led to his young life being tragically cut short.”
Last year, federal investigators documented “critical staffing shortages and violations of ICE detention standards that compromised the health, safety, and rights of detainees.” The latest lawsuit cites that investigation.
KRQE News 13 reached out to CoreCivic for comment on the allegations in the latest lawsuit. They released the following statement:
We are deeply saddened by and take very seriously the passing of any individual in our care. Our facilities have trained emergency response teams who work to ensure that any detainee in distress receives appropriate medical care.
With regard to Mr. Vial, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) investigation of his death did not identify staffing or access to medical professionals as a contributing factor.
It’s important to note that CoreCivic does not enforce immigration laws or policies or have any say whatsoever in an individual’s deportation or release. Those decisions are solely made by our government partners at ICE.-Statement from CoreCivic spokesperson Ryan Gustin
ICE issued a statement on the death in 2022. In part, the statement notes that “ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and undertaking a comprehensive agency-wide review of this incident, as it does in all such cases. Fatalities in ICE custody, statistically, are exceedingly rare and occur at a fraction of the national average for the U.S. detained population.”