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ACLU calls for end to ICE detentions at Baker jail

Civil rights groups filed a complaint alleging inhumane conditions in the federal wing of the Baker County jail.
Civil rights groups filed a complaint alleging inhumane conditions in the federal wing of the Baker County jail.

Alleging physical abuse and poor medical treatment, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and other groups Tuesday called for the end of an agreement that houses immigrants at a detention facility run by the Baker County Sheriff’s Office.

The groups sent a 22-page complaint to officials at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that, in part, called for ending what is known as an Intergovernmental Service Agreement between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Baker County.

“There is extensive evidence that Baker cannot safely care for detained immigrants and people continue to suffer as these conditions continue,” the complaint said. “This evidence is growing by the day as more and more complaints come in about abuse and very poor conditions at Baker.”

The complaint alleges that one detainee was beaten so severely that he suffered lasting ear damage. Another was unable to breathe while pinned under a guard's knee and pepper-sprayed. One was forced to sleep in blood-soaked sheets for several days because of a preexisting medical condition, the complaint says.

The complaint claims one 23-year-old immigrant from El Salvador was beaten and then locked in solitary confinement for four months.

When immigrants protested the conditions with a hunger strike, officers retaliated by locking down the facility and denying them water for drinking or showers, the complaint says.

“At minimum, we ask that your offices conduct a comprehensive investigation of the abuses at Baker through unannounced inspections, interviews with detained individuals, and a thorough review of medical records, video surveillance footage, and any other evidence relevant to the complaints raised in this letter,” the complaint said, addressing Department of Homeland Security officials.

In an interview last month with WJCT News partner News4Jax, Baker County Sheriff Scotty Rhoden disputed the allegations of mistreatment.

“Those are just lies because we take it seriously here at the Baker County Sheriff’s Office to treat people the way they should be treated at all times,” he said.