The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office (AGO) has released video footage of a May 2020 incident at a Bristol County jail that appears to show correctional officers — under the direct supervision of then-Sheriff Thomas Hodgson — using force against a group of civil immigration detainees. The AGO has previously determined that this use of force was excessive and violated the detainees’ civil rights, as documented in its December 15, 2020 report.
The ACLU of Massachusetts, together with law firm Foley Hoag LLP, has been litigating against the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) for public records surrounding this incident for almost three years. Throughout the lawsuit, the BCSO has consistently refused to release contemporaneous records of the incident.
Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, today released the following in response to the release of this footage:
“This footage is deeply disturbing. It appears to confirm the attorney general’s findings in 2020 that Bristol County officials — under the direct supervision of then-Sheriff Thomas Hodgson — used excessive force against civil detainees in their custody. Likewise, the video appears to confirm that officials were deliberately indifferent to substantial risks to the detainees’ health and safety. This is exactly the kind of abuse that can fester when the authority of sheriffs is left unchecked, and when local officials are allowed to pursue a hateful anti-immigrant agenda. The release of this footage is only the beginning: The ACLU of Massachusetts is continuing its lawsuit against the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office to ensure that the public receives complete transparency and accountability for this incident. Sheriffs and other public officials, at all levels of government, must follow the law. We commend Attorney General Campbell for releasing this footage.”
In May 2020, the ACLU of Massachusetts, together with law firm Foley Hoag LLP, sued the BCSO for information about this violent incident, which occurred at the BCSO’s immigration detention facility. The reported incident involved an encounter between BCSO personnel and immigration detainees that escalated to physical violence and resulted in the hospitalization of three detainees. Former Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson previously made multiple, detailed public assertions about the incident, including in a press conference, a radio interview, and multiple statements on social media. The ACLU filed its lawsuit under Massachusetts’ public records law after the BCSO issued a blanket denial of the public records request. The BCSO claimed that all information concerning the incident must be shielded from public view.
In May 2021, after months of advocacy by detainees, local activists, and lawmakers—and following the AGO’s December 2020 report—the Department of Homeland Security announced it would cut all ties with the BCSO. This included ending a contract to house immigration detainees in Bristol County and ending a so-called “287(g)” contract, which deputizes local officials for federal immigration enforcement.
In April 2022, the ACLU of Massachusetts launched its “Know Your Sheriff” campaign. While the ACLU does not endorse or oppose any candidate for office, the campaign set out to inform voters about the role of sheriffs, the life-changing decisions that sheriffs make, and how voters can move sheriffs to make communities safer and more just for all.
For more information about ACLU of Massachusetts v. Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, visit: https://www.aclum.org/en/cases/aclu-massachusetts-v-bristol-county-sheriffs-office
For more information about the ACLU of Massachusetts, visit aclum.org