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NWDC Conditions Research Update: Charles Leo Daniel’s Death at NWDC in Context

March 15, 2024

This research update is part of an ongoing multi-part investigation of human rights concerns at the Northwest Detention Center.

Contents

Introduction
Background, Methodology, and Human Rights Standards
Sanitation of Food and Laundry
Allegations of Medical Neglect
Use of Solitary Confinement
COVID-19 and Health Standards
Reporting of Sexual Assault and Abuse
Uses of Force and Chemical Agents
Research Update: Three Years of Cleanliness Concerns, No Consequences
• Research Update: Charles Leo Daniel’s Death at NWDC in Context

 

 

According to published ICE data, Charles Daniel served the second-longest stretch in solitary confinement of any person in ICE custody since 2018, despite being identified by ICE as having significant mental illness. Between April 2020 and September 2023, he was held in solitary confinement for a total of 1244 days, divided among two stints. Of the ten longest placements in ICE solitary confinement in the nation between 2018 and 2023, five were at Tacoma’s Northwest Detention Center, a private immigration prison operated by the GEO Group.

On March 7, 2024, migrant justice advocates from the grassroots organization La Resistencia disclosed that a man detained in solitary confinement at ICE’s Northwest Detention Center (NWDC)[1] had died, based on reports received from others within the facility[2]. ICE later confirmed that the man was 61-year-old Charles Leo Daniel, a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago[3]. In public statements, Tacoma Police indicated that the cause of death was unknown, and that they have handed responsibility for the investigation to ICE[4]. This raises important concerns about the independence and credibility of the investigation. This research update is intended to share what little is known about Daniel’s death based on UWCHR research on the NWDC, and to place these facts in context for the public.

We obtained the information presented here by cross-referencing multiple datasets the UWCHR has obtained from ICE in FOIA litigation – specifically, a dataset of national detention data[5], and a collection of all I-213s (“Records of Deportable/Inadmissible Alien”) issued by the agency in its Seattle Area of Responsibility from 1/1/2019 -3/31/2020[6] – with a national dataset of solitary confinement data from 2018-2023 published in February 2024 by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), in collaboration with scholars at Harvard Law School and Harvard Medical School, itself the result of FOIA litigation[7]. Although personally-identifying information is redacted in these datasets, by combining them we were able to identify specific records pertaining to Charles Daniel and obtain the information presented here.

ICE documents about Daniel’s immigration status indicate that he arrived in ICE custody on March 31, 2020, after serving a criminal sentence in the Washington State Department of Corrections. At the time of his death, he had been held in ICE detention for almost four years for overstaying the B(1) visa on which he originally entered the U.S. in 2000.

Screenshot of Mr. Daniel’s I-213, released under FOIA.

Solitary confinement[8]

According to people detained with him, Daniel was in solitary confinement at the time of his death. UWCHR researchers were able to identify the specific records of Daniel’s placement in administrative segregation among the replication data published in February 2024 alongside the report ‘“Endless Nightmare: Torture and Inhuman Treatment in Solitary Confinement in U.S. Immigration Detention” by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), in collaboration with scholars at Harvard Law School and Harvard Medical School.[9] Daniel’s records reveal that he was held in solitary confinement for virtually the entirety of his nearly four years at the Northwest Detention Center. Starting two weeks after his arrival at the facility, he served two extraordinarily long stints in solitary confinement, interrupted only by two days among the NWDC’s general population. The second of Daniel’s stints in solitary had lasted 811 days at the time the data was released via FOIA in September of 2023,[10] and as such constituted the second-longest solitary placement in ICE detention in the nation during the period covered by the dataset, despite the fact that his case was flagged in ICE segregation records as “significant mental illness.”

In fact, that data reveals that of the ten individuals who served the longest periods in ICE solitary confinement across the nation, five were held at Tacoma’s Northwest Detention Center.

As UWCHR has previously reported, ICE’s own data shows that Tacoma’s Northwest Detention Center detained people longer, on average, in solitary confinement than any other dedicated ICE facility in the nation. The more recent data released by PHR with its February 2024 report confirm that this trend of stays above the national average continues. In fact, that data reveals that of the ten individuals who served the longest periods in ICE solitary confinement across the nation, five were held at Tacoma’s Northwest Detention Center. Of these, two cases had “mental illness” flags, and one – Daniel’s – had a “serious mental illness” flag.

Table 1: Top 10 longest reported solitary placements nationwide, Sept. 2018-Sept. 2023; Charles Daniel’s second of two solitary placements at NWDC in row 2. Placements ongoing at the time of the dataset’s release are noted with a plus (+) symbol.

Country of Citizenship Facility Length of Stay (days) Mental Illness
1 EL SALVADOR TACOMA ICE PROCESSING CENTER (NORTHWEST DET CTR) (WA) 817+ NA
2 TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO TACOMA ICE PROCESSING CENTER (NORTHWEST DET CTR) (WA) 811+ Serious Mental Illness
3 MEXICO OTAY MESA DETENTION CENTER (SAN DIEGO CDF) (CA) 759 None
4 UZBEKISTAN DENVER CONTRACT DETENTION FACILITY (CO) 727 None
5 HAITI BUFFALO (BATAVIA) SERVICE PROCESSING CENTER (NY) 652 Mental Illness
6 GUATEMALA TACOMA ICE PROCESSING CENTER (NORTHWEST DET CTR) (WA) 637 Mental Illness
7 MEXICO OTAY MESA DETENTION CENTER (SAN DIEGO CDF) (CA) 567 None
8 RUSSIA TACOMA ICE PROCESSING CENTER (NORTHWEST DET CTR) (WA) 559 None
9 MEXICO TACOMA ICE PROCESSING CENTER (NORTHWEST DET CTR) (WA) 550 Mental Illness
10 RUSSIA KROME NORTH SERVICE PROCESSING CENTER (FL) 534+ None

 

At the Northwest Detention Center from September 2018 to September 2023, reported stays in solitary averaged almost 59 days, compared to a national average placement length of 27 days (figures include solitary placements that were ongoing at the time of release of data).[11]

The prolonged use of solitary confinement constitutes a particularly grave violation of human rights according to the UN Standards of Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the “Nelson Mandela Rules,” which state that, “In no circumstances may restrictions or disciplinary sanctions amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The following practices, in particular, shall be prohibited: (a) Indefinite solitary confinement; (b) Prolonged solitary confinement. Prolonged solitary confinement is defined… as solitary confinement for a time period in excess of 15 consecutive days.”[12]

ICE policies also call attention to the importance of avoiding extended stays in segregation. ICE’s 2013 segregation directive, which remains in force today despite the agency’s 2021 commitment to update it by August 2022[13], mandates a detailed system of reporting and reconsidering solitary placements by agency leadership at both the Field Office and, in cases of detained persons with special vulnerabilities, national headquarters level[14]. In part, it reads “As extended segregation should be used only when necessary, after engaging in an individualized assessment of the case, the FOD [Field Office Director] must consider as part of his or her evaluation whether a less restrictive housing or custodial option is appropriate, and, in coordination with ICE headquarters when necessary, arrange for utilization of such less restrictive options that are appropriate and available.” It lists four options to be considered, ranging from the return of the detained person to the facility’s general population to their release from ICE custody[15].

Yet ICE’s own records about its practices are notoriously unreliable. In its 2021 report on the use of segregation in ICE facilities, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General found that the agency internally tracked only 11,893 segregation placements, whereas information in the records of individual facilities showed 44,556 segregation placements during the same period. “ICE’s own reporting policy prevents transparency about the prevalence of segregation use with Congress and the public,” the researchers concluded.[16]

Mental illness

It is of particular concern that Daniel was held in solitary confinement for such a long time while suffering from what ICE considered a “serious mental illness.” Without access to his medical records, we cannot speculate about the specifics of his condition or ascertain the appropriateness of any treatment received. But from the records available, it is clear that his detention for prolonged periods in solitary confinement falls far outside what should be considered acceptable under international law, and under ICE’s own policies, for a person the agency itself determined to be afflicted with serious mental illness.

International standards emphasize the need for particular concern about the detention of individuals with mental illness in solitary confinement. The Nelson Mandela rules state that “The imposition of solitary confinement should be prohibited in the case of prisoners with mental or physical disabilities when their conditions would be exacerbated by such measures.”[17]

ICE’s own rules echo this concern; the agency’s Performance Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS 2011) require that “every effort shall be made to place detainees with serious mental illness in a setting in or outside of the facility in which appropriate treatment can be provided, rather than an SMU [Special Management Unit], if separation from the general population is necessary.”[18] And ICE’s segregation directive goes further, mandating a detailed review and reconsideration process be conducted by the Field Office Director, and reported in writing to national headquarters, on a regular basis in cases where people detained in solitary confinement are known to have “special vulnerabilities,” a category which includes mental illness. Specifically, the directive mandates that the Field Office Director consider alternative placements for such individuals, providing a range of options including transfer to other facilities, to hospitals, or release from custody in order to ensure the well-being of the individual in question[19].

Given the express requirements that these considerations be addressed in writing at multiple levels of ICE leadership, if these rules were followed in the case of Charles Daniel, they would leave ample digital records. Any credible investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Daniel’s death should consult these records, if they exist.

As noted above, solitary placements at the NWDC are significantly longer than the national average. This pattern is also true for the subsection of the population with mental illness and serious mental illness. As Table 2 (below) shows, for those with serious mental illness or mental illness, solitary placements at NWDC were two to almost three times as long as nationwide; for those without mental illness (or where data was missing) solitary placements at NWDC were also longer than those nationwide, but to a lesser degree. Furthermore, while nationally, solitary placements of those with mental illness tend to be shorter than for those without, at the NWDC, placements of those with both mental illness and serious mental illness are longer than for those without these illnesses. This suggests the facility uses solitary confinement as a means to manage mental illness, rather than “as a last resort” as described under ICE’s directive[20].

 

Table 2: Comparison of Northwest Detention Center versus national solitary confinement placement lengths by “Mental Illness” category, Sept. 2018-Sept. 2023. Data source: ICE SRMS data released via FOIA to PHR/HLS

National average placement length NWDC average placement length National median placement length NWDC median placement length Nat’l total placements NWDC total placements
Serious Mental Illness 34.45 89.52 13 28 642 23
Mental Illness 23.38 66.42 10 29 2876 90
None/NA 27.56 54.45 17 25 10733 306

 

NWDC Solitary Placements, Sept. 2018 - Sept. 2023. 'Mental Illness' categories chart.

Medical care

The UWCHR has not had access to any records that would shed light on the quality of medical care received by Daniel during his nearly four years at the NWDC, though our past research suggests that medical care is an area of grave concern at this facility. In recent years, research published in leading medicine and public health journals has found that lack of access to quality medical care is a key factor contributing to deaths in ICE custody. For example, upon reviewing records of deaths in ICE custody, Terp et al (2021) concluded that “Among individuals in ICE detention, potentially preventable causes of death—including COVID-19 infection, influenza and suicide—are responsible for at least half of recent deaths”[21]; based on similar data, Parmar et al (2021) found “markedly substandard care across a majority of cases reviewed.”[22] Grassini et al (2021) reviewed ICE documents concerning 55 deaths in detention from 2011 to 2018, finding “repeated and systemic failures across multiple areas of health care”; 78.2% of the cases reviewed included documented violations of ICE’s internal standards for medical care[23].

Double punishment

ICE lacks the legal authority to hold people on anything but civil immigration charges. This means those held at Northwest Detention Center are held because they are suspected to have violated U.S. immigration law, not because a court has ruled they constitute a public safety threat. While some, like Daniel, have previously served a criminal sentence, their subsequent transfer to ICE custody is the result of collaborations between ICE and Washington state’s Department of Corrections, not the result of a judicial order that these specific individuals be held. For this reason, human rights advocates consider this a form of “double punishment” whereby an individual is imprisoned twice for the same crime[24]; it disproportionately affects Black immigrants, like Daniel[25].

Lack of transparency and accountability

ICE’s record of resistance to public oversight has been amply documented in previous UWCHR research[26]. At the NWDC, ICE and GEO routinely reject requests for information from journalists and researchers, and more recently have turned away state health and labor inspectors as well.

Inquiries by elected officials at the state and federal level have been greeted with the same response – or lack thereof. In November 2018, for example, following the death by suicide of Mergensana Amar in the NWDC,[27] many elected officials demanded answers and investigations. Congressional Reps. Adam Smith and Pramila Jayapal, and Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell wrote to DHS after Amar’s death, demanding “transparency and a thorough understanding of the circumstances and actions taken leading up to Mr. Amar’s death,” and posing a list of specific questions; if they ever received a response, they declined to share it publicly. Gov. Jay Inslee, simiilarly, wrote to DHS calling for an independent investigation following Amar’s death. His demand appears to have gone unanswered, as no such investigation took place. Subsequent FOIA litigation by watchdog organization American Oversight uncovered disturbing documents that raise grave questions about the NWDC’s handling of Amar’s case, yet these have never been investigated by any independent agency.

With equal vigor, other elected officials have asserted the need for answers about ICE’s use of solitary confinement. Sen. Elizabeth Warren sent a June 21, 2019 letter posing questions to ICE about the use of solitary confinement, but received no response, prompting her to send a November 1, 2019 follow-up letter “demanding answers.” On October 23, 2019, Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Adam Smith sent a letter to the DHS Office of the Inspector General demanding an investigation into the use of solitary confinement at the NWDC. No response was made public.

Conclusion

Charles Daniel’s death is, without a doubt, tragic. Yet after years of efforts to address abuses at the facility through litigation, lawmaking, and public advocacy, none of us can pretend it is a surprise.

Today, we must take action to ensure that his death is properly investigated by an independent body with a record of credible and transparent inquiry; that the results of that investigation are made public; and that, together, we use what is learned to inform effective policymaking, and in so doing, to prevent future deaths in ICE custody.

Members of Congress have a unique ability to compel answers from federal agencies, not through strongly-worded public letters but through written information requests of the agency’s Congressional liaison. If members of Washington’s Congressional delegation have chosen not to make use of this tool to date, now is the time to start, in the interests of transparency, accountability, and supporting the leadership of Washington communities who are using every tool at our disposal in our effort to stop the abuse of our neighbors.

 

 

Notes

[1] The facility, operated by the private prison corporation GEO Group, is also known as the Northwest ICE Processing Center or Tacoma ICE Processing Center.

[2] Lilly Fowler, “ICE identifies man found dead at Northwest ICE Processing Center”, KNKX Public Radio, March 8, 2024. https://www.knkx.org/tacoma/2024-03-08/police-find-man-dead-northwest-ice-processing-center-tacoma-immigration-detention

[3] U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “Trinidad and Tobago national in ICE custody dies at NWIPC”, March 11, 2024. https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/trinidad-and-tobago-national-ice-custody-dies-nwipc

[4] Peter Talbot, “Man found dead in cell at immigration detention center in Tacoma, police say”, March 12, 2024. https://www.columbian.com/news/2024/mar/12/man-found-dead-in-cell-at-immigration-detention-center-in-tacoma-police-say/

[5] This dataset was released in UWCHR v. DHS, Case 2:22-cv-1329, FOIA number 2022-ICLI-00060.

[6] This collection of documents was released in UWCHR v. DHS, ICE Case No. 2:18-CV-01396.

[7] Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRCP) and Arevik Avedian at Harvard Law School (HLS), Peeler Immigration Lab (PIL) at Harvard Medical School (HMS), and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), ‘”Endless Nightmare”: Torture and Inhuman Treatment in Solitary Confinement in U.S. Immigration Detention’, February 26, 2024. https://phr.org/our-work/resources/endless-nightmare-solitary-confinement-in-us-immigration-detention/

[8] ICE does not use the term “solitary confinement.” Rather, the agency employs terms such as “administrative segregation,” which is ostensibly not punitive, and “disciplinary segregation,” used in cases of infractions of facility rules. Other terms used are “medical isolation,” “segregated housing,” and “special management units.” All of these involve the separation of an individual from the general population, sometimes for the individual’s own protection or at their request.

[9] Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRCP) and Arevik Avedian at Harvard Law School (HLS), Peeler Immigration Lab (PIL) at Harvard Medical School (HMS), and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), ‘”Endless Nightmare”: Torture and Inhuman Treatment in Solitary Confinement in U.S. Immigration Detention’, February 26, 2024. https://phr.org/our-work/resources/endless-nightmare-solitary-confinement-in-us-immigration-detention/
For replication data, see Ardalan, Sabi; Avedian, Arevik; Torrey, Phil, 2024, “Replication data and analysis for ‘“Endless Nightmare” Torture and Inhuman Treatment in Solitary Confinement in U.S. Immigration Detention'”. https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/AT7YFA

[10] Replication data for the PHR report shows that the authors excluded records of ongoing confinement from their published analysis, with the intent of reporting data on completed stays only. As a result, ongoing stays including Daniel’s are not noted in the PHR report’s list of long solitary placements, and overall figures differ slightly from UWCHR’s analysis, which includes ongoing stays. For UWCHR’s full analysis, see: https://uwchr.github.io/nwdc-seg/phr-srms.html

[11] According to ICE’s policy directive on the use of segregation, the placement of a person without “special vulnerabilities” in segregation for a period less than 14 days does not need to be recorded in the agency’s SRMS database; this means that many placements for shorter periods may go entirely unreported. The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General criticized ICE’s failure to report many segregation placements in an October 2021 report, which recommended that ICE begin tracking all segregation placements. ICE agreed with this recommendation and committed to instituting a new policy to track all segregation placements by an “estimated completion date” of August 2022. It is unclear if this has occurred.

[12] UN General Assembly resolution 70/175, annex, The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules), adopted on 17 December 2015. Rule 43, paragraph 1: The United Nations Standards of rules for the treatment of prisoners (“Nelson Mandela Rules”). Rule 43, paragraphs 1-2.

[13] For more on ICE’s commitment to update its segregation directive, see the agency’s 2021 response to the 2021 OIG Report on its use of segregation, p. 12. https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2021-10/OIG-22-01-Oct21.pdf

[14] Ses section 5.3 “Field Office Reports to ICE Headquarters,” in 11065.1: Review of the Use of Segregation for ICE Detainees, pp. 7-9. https://www.ice.gov/doclib/detention-reform/pdf/segregation_directive.pdf

[15] See 11065.1: Review of the Use of Segregation for ICE Detainees, p. 5. https://www.ice.gov/doclib/detention-reform/pdf/segregation_directive.pdf

[16] See Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, “ICE Needs to Improve Its Oversight of Segregation Use in Detention Facilities,” OIG-22-01, October 13, 2021, p. 10. https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2021-10/OIG-22-01-Oct21.pdf.

[17] The United Nations Standards of rules for the treatment of prisoners (“Nelson Mandela Rules”). Rule 45, paragraph 2. https://undocs.org/A/RES/70/175

[18] ICE, PBNDS 2011, p. 172. https://www.ice.gov/doclib/detention-standards/2011/pbnds2011r2016.pdf

[19] See 5.2.6.d. of ICE’s 11065.1: Review of the Use of Segregation for ICE Detainees, p.7. https://www.ice.gov/doclib/detention-reform/pdf/segregation_directive.pdf

[20] See ICE’s 11065.1: Review of the Use of Segregation for ICE Detainees, p.1. https://www.ice.gov/doclib/detention-reform/pdf/segregation_directive.pdf

[21] See Terp S, Ahmed S, Burner E, Ross M, Grassini M, Fischer B, Parmar P. Deaths in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention: FY2018-2020. AIMS Public Health. 2021 Jan 11;8(1):81-89. 10.3934/publichealth.2021006;

[22] Parmar P, Ross M, Terp S, Kearl N, Fischer B, and Grassini N, et al. Mapping factors associated with deaths in immigration detention in the United States, 2011-2018: A thematic analysis. The Lancet Regional Health Americas Vol 2 100040 Oct 2021

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lana.2021.100040

[23] Grassini M, Terp S, Fischer B, et al, “Characteristics of Deaths Among Individuals in US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Detention Facilities, 2011-2018”, JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(7):e2116019. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.16019

[24] See for example Vera Institute of Justice, “Detention of Immigrants”, accessed March 14, 2024: https://www.vera.org/ending-mass-incarceration/reducing-incarceration/detention-of-immigrants; and see also Naomi Vanderlip, “’Double Punishment’: Thousands of Southeast Asian Refugees Face Deportation After Decades-Old Convictions”, KQED, November 27, 2023. https://www.kqed.org/news/11966564/double-punishment-thousands-of-southeast-asian-refugees-face-deportation-after-decades-old-convictions.

[25] Those who knew him in detention have reported that Daniel was Black; ICE detention records released to UWCHR in litigation confirm this. On the “double punishment” of Black people in immigration detention, see Jeremy Raff, “The ‘Double Punishment’ for Black Undocumented Immigrants”, The Atlantic, December 30, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/12/the-double-punishment-for-black-immigrants/549425/.

[26] See especially https://jsis.washington.edu/humanrights/2020/03/27/nwdc-background-methodology-human-rights-standards/ and other reports in our eight-part series on the NWDC, and https://jsis.washington.edu/humanrights/2018/12/05/secret-police/

[27] Nina Shapiro and Paul Roberts, “Medical examiner says Russian detainee in Tacoma died after suicide attempt, not from hunger strike”, Seattle Times, November 26, 2018. https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/ice-says-russian-detainee-in-tacoma-had-attempted-suicide-disputes-claim-he-died-of-hunger-strike/