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Mass. sheriff, congressman clash over jail outburst by ICE detainees

U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III called for an investigation into what occurred at the Bristol County House of Corrections, as well as the release of surveillance footage

By Joe Dwinell
Boston Herald

DARTMOUTH, Mass. — Bristol Sheriff Thomas Hodgson is blasting U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III for “playing politics” with a flare-up at the county jail after illegal immigrants refused to be tested for coronavirus and fought guards, causing $25,000 in damage.

The 10 illegal immigrants assaulted staffers Friday night inside the North Dartmouth lock-up in a showdown that had Kennedy taking to Twitter and later calling for an investigation.

Hodgson told the Herald Saturday Kennedy never called him to hear the “truth” about the testing.

“Sadly, Joe Kennedy is just playing politics,” said Hodgson. “If he wanted to know the truth, he’d pick up the phone to me. Instead, he wants to advance some political agenda.”

Hodgson said he was following CDC guidelines and attempting to test the inmates who had signs of COVID-19. When asked to be tested, the sheriff said the detainees barricaded themselves inside the facility, ripped washing machines and pipes off the wall, broke windows and trashed the entire unit including a prayer room.

Some of the detainees were ultimately tested — while others remain in isolation because they have refused the test. Hodgson said all his officers are “OK,” adding “it could have been worse.” K-9 units were called in to help quell the outbreak.

The top ICE official in Boston backed Hodgson Saturday, saying the feds will keep using the jail to house criminals caught.

“We commend the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office staff who responded rapidly and professionally to de-escalate a volatile situation, limiting injuries and further damage to the facility and restoring order,” said Todd Lyons, head of the Boston office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Hodgson said he’s already been ordered to release 47 ICE detainees since the pandemic hit — nine who had final deportation orders. But, he added, he’s just “following the very laws Congress passed.”

Kennedy, who is running for U.S. Senate against Ed Markey, could not be reached for a comment Saturday.

Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights in Boston, said the ICE detainees “were justifiably concerned” about being brought to the jail’s medical wing “given the cross-contamination with many different individuals from all over the facility.”

His group is backing the class-action lawsuit seeking the release of ICE inmates.

Late Saturday night Kennedy spokesman Dan Black said: “Based on the conflicting reports from those involved, Congressman Kennedy is calling for an immediate, independent investigation into what occurred at the Bristol County House of Corrections, as well as the release of surveillance footage. Getting the facts should be in the best interest of all parties.”