DENVER – The ACLU of Colorado filed a lawsuit today against the GEO Group, Inc., for the wrongful death of Kamyar Samimi. Mr. Samimi, a Legal Permanent Resident, died in December 2017, after two weeks in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody at the Aurora Contract Detention Facility (ACDF), a for-profit detention center operated by GEO. The ACLU of Colorado’s investigation, which included a lawsuit for records related to Mr. Samimi’s death, revealed a gut-wrenching picture of his final days and reflected the inhumane conditions and lack of adequate medical care at ACDF.
“On the first day of Mr. Samimi’s detention, GEO’s only full-time physician, following GEO policy, ordered that Mr. Samimi be cut off from the methadone he’d been legally taking for 20 years, thus forcing him to endure the all-consumingly painful, debilitating and life-threatening torture of opioid withdrawal,” ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein said. “That order was medically unjustifiable, and it precipitated the ugly and ultimately fatal consequences that ensued.”
The lawsuit also names then-staff physician Jeffery Peterson. In addition to claims of negligence and wrongful death under state law, the lawsuit asserts a claim under the Rehabilitation Act, for discriminating against Mr. Samimi for having a disability of Opioid Use Disorder.
ACLU of Colorado filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on Dec. 20, 2017, seeking documents explaining what caused Samimi’s death. Having received only five pages in response, ACLU of Colorado filed a lawsuit on April 9, 2019. ICE then released the detainee death review in May 2019.
Following an initial whitewash by GEO, the ICE internal review of Samimi’s death found numerous violations of ICE standards. Nonetheless, in early 2019, ICE reached an agreement with GEO to increase the capacity of ACDF from 1,000 to 1,500 detainees. Despite its expanded capacity, the facility still has only one full-time physician. In Mr. Samimi’s case, GEO cut him off from his prescribed methadone and its medical staff was woefully unprepared to deal with Mr. Samimi’s deteriorating condition. The staff erroneously wrote him off as a “drug-seeker,” missed doses of medication and failed to respond adequately or humanely as his condition became critical.
In September, ACLU of Colorado released an investigative report that revealed numerous stories of medical neglect and incompetence, as well as substandard care that contributed to the suffering and death of Samimi. The report found: “Mr. Samimi’s tragic death reflects the atrocious conditions at ACDF, which holds close to 1,500 detainees, most of whom are in civil immigration proceedings. Having come to the U.S. in search of a better life, they are confined without access to sufficient medical care, adequate nutrition, legal resources or in many cases basic human decency.”
Samimi came to the United States as a student in 1976 and became a Legal Permanent Resident in 1978. He worked as a mechanic and raised three children, including his two daughters in Colorado. ICE agents arrested him at his home in Thornton on Nov. 17, 2017. He died in their custody two weeks later on Dec. 2. His family has been waiting for justice ever since.
“It’s devastating,” said Neda Samimi-Gomez of her father’s death. “We will never have more memories with my dad. When I have a family, my own child will never have memories of their grandfather. We never want this to happen to another family, which is why it’s been so important to have the ACLU take our father’s case. We want everyone to know what happened so that it never happens again.”
In addition to Silverstein, the litigation team includes Sara Neel and Arielle Herzberg at the ACLU, along with ACLU cooperating attorney Paul Karlsgodt and his team at Baker Hostetler, LLP.
ACLU of Colorado Report (9/19): Cashing In On Cruelty: Stories of Death, Abuse and Neglect at the GEO Immigration Detention Facility in Aurora
Human Rights Watch Report (5/17): Systemic Indifference: Dangerous and Substandard Medical Care in US Immigration Detention
ACLU Report (2/16): Fatal Neglect: How ICE Ignored Deaths in Detention