Family of Man Who Bled to Death in Immigration Custody Sues Hudson County Over Medical Care

May 30, 2019

Bonilla v. Hudson County, Health Justice, Immigrant Justice, News

(New York, NY—May 30)—The family of Carlos Bonilla, a father of four who died from internal bleeding in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention, has filed a lawsuit against Hudson County and those responsible for his medical care while he was confined to immigration detention at Hudson County Correctional Center.

A copy of the filed complaint is downloadable here.

Mr. Bonilla’s youngest daughter was eight years old when he died. He had a scheduled bond hearing in his immigration case but was never able to make his argument for release. Instead, he was hospitalized with severe internal bleeding and died two days later, just over two months after he’d been arrested by ICE and confined at Hudson County Correctional Center.

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and Dechert LLP filed a civil rights and tort lawsuit in federal court today in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey arising out of Mr. Bonilla’s wrongful death. The case details how Hudson County, Hudson County Correctional Center, CFG Health Systems (the contracted medical provider at the time), individuals in charge at those entities, and individual medical providers responsible for treating Mr. Bonilla egregiously failed to evaluate or treat deadly complications from cirrhosis, a chronic and life-threatening liver disease. There have been more than 17 deaths since 2013 at Hudson County Correctional Center, and multiple reports have detailed a long history of serious problems with medical care at the facility.

Mr. Bonilla, a long-time resident of Long Island, was the loving parent of four children whom he helped support by doing construction work. Prior to his detention, Mr. Bonilla received medical treatment in the community for complications of cirrhosis. Hudson County Correctional Center was aware that Mr. Bonilla had been diagnosed with serious medical conditions and had a history of prescribed medications to manage complications of cirrhosis. Mr. Bonilla had multiple interactions with medical staff at the Hudson County Correctional Center, including requesting additional medical care. Nevertheless, Defendants did not have a medical plan for him or provide evaluation or care for Mr. Bonilla’s cirrhosis.

The lawsuit contains constitutional and state law claims seeking to hold Defendants accountable for Mr. Bonilla’s untimely death, and to recover damages for his children.

Marinda van Dalen, Senior Attorney at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, said: “The deep deficiencies in medical care provided to people in immigration detention have serious and even life-threatening results, as illustrated tragically by the case of Carlos Bonilla.”

“There is a human rights crisis in detention facilities in this country. Hudson County, Hudson County Correctional Center, and CFG have a history of failing to provide adequate medical care to the people detained there and must be held accountable. We bring this case on behalf of Mr. Bonilla’s family to right that very serious wrongs that resulted in Mr. Bonilla’s death,” said Maureen Belluscio, Senior Attorney at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.

“We are proud to partner with New York Lawyers for Public Interest on this critically important suit,” said Michelle Hart Yeary, Counsel at Dechert LLP, which is representing plaintiffs pro bono. “We hope this case will be a positive step in remedying the serious wrongs being inflicted on immigrants in detention who are being denied necessary and appropriate medical care.”

About New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI)

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest has fought for more than 40 years to protect civil rights and achieve lived equality for communities in need. NYLPI combines the power of law, organizing, and the private bar to make lasting change where it’s needed most.

NYLPI’s Health Justice work brings a racial equity and immigrant justice focus to health care advocacy in New York City and State. Thousands of immigrant New Yorkers receive abysmal health care in immigrant detention facilities in and around the City. Through NYLPI’s Detained and Denied report and ongoing investigation, we have documented this growing human rights crisis – denials of vital treatment, delayed surgeries, missed life-threatening diagnoses, and horrendous surgical errors.

Conditions will only worsen with recent spikes in immigration enforcement. We represent individual clients to improve healthcare in the facilities; secure volunteer physicians to provide medical reviews and consultations; and document patterns of deplorable conditions. Our cutting-edge constitutional and civil rights litigation against detention facilities challenges the failure to provide adequate medical care.  Our growing network of volunteer medical providers reviews medical records from immigration detention centers and drafts advocacy letters for release, bond, and better medical care through our Medical-Legal-Community Partnership. Our individual cases inform our systemic strategies, in partnership with community-based organizations and those people who are directly affected.

About Dechert LLP

Dechert is a leading global law firm with 27 offices around the world. Dechert advises on matters and transactions of the greatest complexity, bringing energy, creativity and efficient management of legal issues to deliver commercial and practical advice for clients. For more information, visit https://www.dechert.com/.

Press Coverage

The story was covered by the North Jersey Record:

Daughter of immigration detainee who died in custody sues Hudson County, its jail

Monserrate Alvarado, North Jersey Record

May 31, 2019

The daughter of a man who died while in immigration custody filed a wrongful death lawsuit Thursday against Hudson County and its jail, where he was held before he died of internal bleeding at a local hospital.

Joanna Bonilla, the daughter of Carlos Bonilla and administrator of his estate, filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Newark, and also names as a defendant CFG Health Systems, which was the medical provider at the jail at the time of her father’s death in June 2017.

The lawsuit also names nine people described by attorneys as “individual medical providers responsible for treating Mr. Bonilla,” who they claim failed to evaluate or treat deadly complications from cirrhosis, a chronic and life-threatening liver disease. They include a doctor, the medical director, a nurse practitioner, the health services administrator, two registered nurses, and the director of nursing as well as the jail director.

“There were many times that Mr. Bonilla interacted with the medical staff at the facility. In fact, the sick calls that he made are in his medical file and they are very tragic,” said Marinda van Dalen, an attorney on the case and a senior staff attorney with the Disability Justice and Health Justice program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “He was really pleading for medical help, asking to see a doctor when he was being treated by nurses, saying that he didn’t feel well, and asking for medical help. And time and again, he didn’t receive the care he really needed, which was treatment for cirrhosis.”

James Kennelly, the spokesman for Hudson County, declined comment. A representative for CFG Health Systems LLC of Marlton did not immediately return a call for comment on Thursday.

Last year, Hudson County terminated its five-year contract with CFG Health Systems, after the death of an inmate who hanged himself in his cell. The death had been the sixth of an inmate at the facility within nine months.

Bonilla, the father of four who had been living in the United States for nearly 25 years, owned a construction company with his brother to provide for his family. Bonilla, who was born in El Salvador, was arrested for being in the country illegally by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on April 1, 2017, while he worked at a construction site on Long Island.

Prior to his detention, Bonilla received medical treatment in the community for complications of cirrhosis of the liver, including anemia and gastrointestinal bleeding, according to the suit.

“When Mr. Bonilla was living in his community – and not confined at Hudson County Correctional Center – he was able to access proper medical evaluation and treatment, and repeatedly recovered from these complications,” the suit says. “Following each of these complications, Mr. Bonilla was able to return to his work, life, and family.”

After his arrest, Bonilla was taken to the Hudson County jail, which has an agreement with ICE to hold its detainees. There, according to the suit, a nurse conducted an intake examination, which led him to be labeled a “priority level: urgent,” because of his diabetes, according to the suit. But the lawsuit claims that the priority did not include an examination, evaluation, or treatment for Bonilla’s cirrhosis and related complications.

The lawsuit claims that staff at the Hudson County jail were aware that Bonilla had been diagnosed with serious medical conditions and had a history of prescribed medications to manage complications of cirrhosis. It also claims that Bonilla told a nurse practitioner on the first day about his cirrhosis, but that he wasn’t given treatment or provided with his prescribed medications.

The lawsuit describes several instances of Bonilla reaching out to medical staff and “desperately advocating for his medical care.” He suffered a nosebleed two weeks after he entered detention, a complication of cirrhosis, according to the suit. Sick calls were also registered on April 25, May 3, May 11, May 18, and June 7.

“Over and over, he pleaded for help based on symptoms that can indicate dangerous complications of cirrhosis, including anemia, fever, weakness, dizziness, nosebleed, infection, and abdominal pain,” the suit states. “Mr. Bonilla also implored that he needed to see a doctor, having only been seen by nurses and nurse practitioners and that he needed to have his blood tested.”

In the early hours of June 8, while Bonilla was leaving his cell to attend a hearing on whether he would be released on bond, his speech became slurred, he was dizzy and stumbling which led the jail to call an emergency code, according to the suit. Bonilla was taken by stretcher to the jail’s clinic, and about two hours later was transported to Jersey City Medical Center.

His family, at the time, was waiting for him in immigration court on Varick Street in Manhattan.

By the time he arrived at the hospital, according to the suit, Bonilla had blood in his stool, blood clots in his esophagus, abdominal pain, dizziness and weakness. Two days later, he died. His official cause of death was “internal bleeding and hemorrhagic shock,” caused by varices, which the suit says is a common and manageable complication experienced by patients.

Van Dalen, one of the attorneys representing Bonilla’s daughter in the case, said that the care Bonilla received was “grossly inadequate,” and that he was just given Tylenol and other antibiotics when he sought help, but not the prescription medication that he had been using to treat his illness.

“His medical records are completely void of any mention other than he had been diagnosed with the condition,” she said.

She said the death of Bonilla is a systemic problem, and that such facilities who hold immigrant detainees are not equipped to care for people with chronic illnesses.

“Especially those with special medical conditions, it can be deadly,” she said. “Mr. Bonilla should have been living in his community with his family while his immigration case was proceeding, instead of in a jail.”

The jail has been under scrutiny since Bonilla’s death, which led to two county investigations and the dismissal of medical employees. His death and that of another inmate, Jenifer Towle, weeks later by suicide, led the jail to come under fire about poor medical care at the site.

Bonilla’s death has “devastated” the family, and caused financial hardships on his children, according to the suit.

“Mr. Bonilla left behind four children, the youngest was only 8 years old… and they want the world to know about this tragedy and what happened to their father, how he was killed by the defendants because they failed to provide him with the medical care that he needed,” van Dalen said. “And they also want to shed light on what happened… to their family and how it has left them broken and so so sad.”

The suit is seeking a judgment against defendants, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

Politico covered the story:

Family of Long Island man sues New Jersey jail over lack of medical care

By Amanda Eisenberg

May 30, 2019

The family of a Long Island man who died in immigration custody is suing the Hudson County jail that detained him and failed to treat his known medical conditions, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday evening in federal court in New Jersey.

Carlos Bonilla, a 43-year-old father of four, died from internal bleeding due to cirrhosis, despite medical staff at the Hudson County Correctional Center in Kearny, N.J., knowing about his condition, according to the 52-page complaint.

Bonilla was picked up by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on his way to work for the construction company he owned with his brother. The ICE-contracted facility where he was detained did not have a medical plan for Bonilla or provide an evaluation or care for his cirrhosis, the lawsuit attests. The facility has been the subject of controversy for years both for its relationship with ICE as well as its medical treatment of inmates.

The lawsuit also alleges that Bonilla, who resided in the country for 25 years after emigrating from Central America, bled for three days in detention before he hemorrhaged to death. Neither the lawsuit nor the lawyers confirmed Bonilla’s immigration status.

“He was transported to the hospital on the very date that he was scheduled to appear before an immigration judge to determine whether he would be released on bond to his family and community,” the complaint states.

“We hope to not only hold [the county, the correctional facility and the medical professionals] accountable but also shed light on this sadly not unusual, absolute inadequate medical care being provided at facilities where people are being detained while their immigration cases are pending,” said Marinda van Dalen, senior attorney with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and a lead attorney on the case. “They did absolutely nothing about [his medical needs].

The family has not listed the amount of money it is seeking in the lawsuit.

“In terms of the litigation, large civil rights lawsuits take a long time,” van Dalen said. “It’s not unusual for them to take years.”

There have been more than 17 deaths at the ICE-contracted facility since 2013, along with multiple reports that the detention center has “a long history of serious problems with [providing] medical care,” according to the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.

Although Hudson County officials said they would take steps to end the county’s five-year, $29 million contract with ICE, the county freeholder board voted to give itself power to approve a new contract in 2020, according to The Jersey Journal.

The Daily Beast covered the story:

Father of Four ‘Bled to Death’ in ICE Custody: Lawsuit

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