Below is the text from an article in today's Providence Journal.
01:00 AM EST on Thursday, January 8, 2009
By KAREN LEE ZINER and W. ZACHARY MALINOWSKI
Journal Staff Writers
Journal Staff Writers CENTRAL FALLS — Seven employees of the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility are facing punishment ranging from reprimands to firing in connection with the death of Hiu Lui Ng last August while he was in Wyatt custody.
Ng, 34, a computer engineer from New York, died as a result of complications from advanced cancer; he also had a fractured spine. Ng’s lawyers allege that he was denied access to medical care and legal counsel, and that Wyatt guards accused him of faking his illness.
The disciplinary actions result from a just-completed internal investigation that exonerates Wyatt, a privately run detention center, with regard to Ng’s medical care.
The seven unnamed staff members are being punished for “specific failures to comply with facility policies and procedures during Mr. Ng’s 25-day detention at the Facility,” according to a statement issued yesterday by the Central Falls Detention Facility Corporation, which operates the prison.
“The CFDFC stands by its initial statement that Mr. Ng was provided appropriate and timely medical attention to diagnose the late-stage cancer which ultimately caused his death, both in-house and through the use of outside hospitals,” the statement said.
According to the statement, neither the center, nor its staff learned that Ng was suffering from late-stage cancer “until after Mr. Ng was diagnosed at Rhode Island Hospital on or about Aug. 1, 2008. Mr. Ng remained in hospital care from the time of his cancer diagnosis until his passing on Aug. 6, 2008.”
“The CFDFC reiterates that the actions of the Facility’s staff, including the actions of those staff members that have been disciplined, did not contribute to the cause of Mr. Ng’s death.”
The statement noted that the state medical examiner’s office determined that Ng. died of natural causes associated with metastatic liver cancer.
Wyatt spokesman Dante Bellini Jr. said the internal investigation began shortly after Ng’s death, and examined Ng’s care while housed at Wyatt between July 3 and Aug. 1. Bellini declined further comment citing “pending investigations,” including an investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Washington.
Bellini said he believes the ICE investigation has just been completed. An ICE spokesman would not confirm that yesterday.
The New York Times last year chronicled Ng’s odyssey, from his arrest in 2007 on a deportation order that court records state he never received; to his being shuttled among jails and other facilities around New England where ICE detainees are held; to his last weeks at Wyatt as his medical condition allegedly went untreated and undiagnosed.
Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union — which represents Ng’s family — said the investigation results “are an important first step, but the public still deserves a lot of answers. If the facility itself acknowledges that seven staff members need severe punishment, that should raise red flags that there’s something very serious going on at this facility.”
Brown added, “What were the violations of policy that occurred? How could they have occurred to such a great extent and affecting so many employees if it’s not a systemic problem at the facility? Their belief that there was no problem with medical care remains very troubling, since the records we’ve seen so far make it clear it was only in his very last days that Mr. Ng was diagnosed with terminal disease.”
On Dec. 8, ICE abruptly removed all 153 immigrant detainees from Wyatt and transferred them to five other states, as a team of investigators from its Washington headquarters and elsewhere arrived to investigate Ng’s death. The mass transfer marked at least the third time since 2007 that ICE has moved all detainees out of a facility following a highly publicized in-custody death.
Meanwhile, Wyatt has begun “across-the-board cuts” that include layoffs, the elimination of prisoner programs and a freeze on new hires in the months ahead unless the prison gets an influx of new detainees. The loss of immigrant detainees is costing the prison about $100,000 a week and officials have been forced to reduce expenses. That has led to this week’s layoffs and cuts in services.
Bellini, the Wyatt spokesman, refused to say how many of the prison’s staff of 204 administrators, guards and support staff have lost their jobs, what programs have been cut or how much the facility hopes to save each week.
The Journal has learned that two top officials, including an associate warden, were let go this week. Their combined annual salaries totaled more than $100,000.
Others may be gone by week’s end.
“We have put into place the contingency plan,” Bellini said. “We still don’t know what the final look of this is going to be.”
The action could have a crippling impact on Wyatt, which is reimbursed about $100 a day for each prisoner housed there.
Yesterday, there were 512 prisoners in Wyatt, about 150 to 200 fewer than its normal population in recent years. Bellini said that the prison also has shut down two of its 12 pods, each of which houses up to 100 inmates.
The cuts are also bad news for the financially strapped City of Central Falls, which Wyatt paid $504,656 in the fiscal year that ended last June 30.
I agree with the questions raised by Steven Brown.
“What were the violations of policy that occurred? How could they have occurred to such a great extent and affecting so many employees if it’s not a systemic problem at the facility?"
There is now a facebook group open to anyone which calls for answers...
The name of the group is: Make the Wyatt Detention Facility accountable
and it has 63 members as 12:16 (this moment)...