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Press Release: 911 Calls Reveal Suicide Attempts at NWDC

April 9, 2024

911 Call Logs Reveal Increase in Reports of Suicide Attempts at Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA

For Immediate Release: 

SEATTLE, WA, April 9, 2024 — New 911 call logs obtained by the University of Washington Center for Human Rights (UWCHR) reveal at least 6 suicide attempts by people in ICE custody at the Northwest Detention Center (also known as Northwest ICE Processing Center) so far during 2024, as well as an additional report of significant self-harm by a detained person. The South Sound 911 dispatch logs report 41 calls involving the detention center from January 1 to March 18, 2024; including at least six reported attempted suicides, two apparently involving the same person; twenty medical emergency calls; and one facility fire with flames and smoke coming up through the roof.

The records, including call logs and audio, were released by Pierce County’s South Sound 911 dispatch center pursuant to public records requests by UWCHR following the death of Charles Leo Daniel, a 61 year-old citizen of Trinidad and Tobago who was found dead in solitary confinement at the Northwest Detention Center on March 7, 2024. Detailed records of the 911 calls reporting Daniel’s death have yet to be released. (UWCHR has requested call audio for all incidents since March 1, in addition to a reported suicide attempt on January 6; a small number of records are still outstanding.)

There is evidence that the rate of reported suicide attempts at the Northwest Detention Center during 2024 represents an increase over past years. UWCHR analysis of South Sound 911 call logs obtained in the course of prior research include a total of 685 incidents involving the facility from August 10, 2017 to April 3, 2023, an average of about 10 per month. During this period of more than five and a half years, twelve incidents categorized by South Sound 911 as suicide attempts originated from the facility. (Other suicide attempts and incidents of significant self-harm during this period may have been categorized as “medical” incidents.) In November 2018, Mergensana Amar, a 40 year-old asylum seeker with Russian citizenship, died following a suicide attempt while detained in solitary confinement at the facility.

Audio recordings of the recent 911 calls from the detention center include harrowing details of suicide attempts and serious medical incidents, including at least two suicide attempts by asphyxiation involving a 28 year-old female detained person; and two incidents involving detained people jumping or falling from the detention center’s second tier. In a chaotic March 13 call requesting medical response for a suicide attempt, detention center staff describe a detained person as “breathing but not conscious”; in a follow up call by Tacoma Police Dispatch less than fifteen minutes later, detention center staff report that the incident is being handled “in-house” and does not require police response. Records indicate Tacoma Fire Department was dispatched to the facility, but that the dispatch was canceled.

Following the death of Charles Leo Daniel, UWCHR research revealed that according to ICE solitary confinement records, 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. While the cause of Daniel’s death has not yet been released by the Pierce County medical examiner, the case raises concerns about the use of prolonged solitary confinement, treatment of those with mental health needs, and the implementation of protocols regarding the well-being of detained people in ICE custody.

On March 29, 2024, twelve U.S. Senators, including Senators Cantwell and Murray, wrote a letter to DHS Secretary Mayorkas and ICE Acting Director Lechleitner expressing concern regarding the use of solitary confinement, calling on ICE to limit its use of the practice, and demanding the release of additional data regarding solitary confinement in ICE custody, requesting a response by April 5.

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About the UWCHR

The UW Center for Human Rights (UWCHR) is the only university-based human rights center in the country established by state law with a mission to work with community-based organizations to improve human rights outcomes. Since 2009, the UWCHR has partnered with grassroots advocates, policymakers, and others on the front lines of human rights struggles who seek research to inform their actions. In this way, all of the UWCHR’s work combines cutting-edge research, student education, and community engagement.