Things That Matter

This Trans Woman Died In ICE Custody And Now Her Family Is Suing Because Video Footage Has Gone Missing

Surveillance footage of Roxsana Hernandez, a trans woman who died in ICE custody, may have been deleted by the agency, her family’s lawyers say. However, the company that runs the facility claims the cameras automatically overwrote the video. The attorneys believe the footage could be key evidence in determining the events that led up to Hernandez’s death. 

The 33-year-old died May 25, 2018, in a New Mexico detention center from AIDS complications. Her death caused public outrage when advocates claimed she didn’t receive appropriate medical care while in custody. ICE officials say Hernandez wasn’t in custody long enough to be assessed and receive adequate treatment. 

Emails are released that reveal the footage of Hernandez’s death had been deleted.

The Transgender Law Center revealed an email exchange between officials that suggests the Cibola Country Correctional Center, a privately run ICE facility, did not preserve the surveillance footage. Hernandez only spent less than a day there before being moved to a hospital. 

Buzzfeed published the emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. An analyst in ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility requested a copy of the video footage in an email. 

“The requested video is no longer available,” said a supervisory detention and deportation officer in an Aug. 28, 2018, email. “The footage is held in memory up to around 90 days. They attempted to locate and was negative.”

Hernandez’s lawyers believe the footage was vital to her case. 

The family’s lawyers insist that ICE is required to keep evidence, electronic or not if it expects litigation. They believe the agency should have anticipated a lawsuit. The footage could reveal the severity of Hernandez’s health condition and could provide ample evidence that she was denied necessary care. 

“ICE and CoreCivic have consistently denied wrongdoing and stated that they in effect provided Roxsana with all the health care she needed,” Hernandez’s family’s attorney Andrew Free told BuzzFeed News. “The video would be essential and frankly irreplaceable evidence of whether that was true.”

CoreCivic is the private prison where Hernandez was held before she was hospitalized in Albuquerque. Lynly Egyes, legal director at the Transgender Law Center, also believes ICE should have held onto the footage.

“That autopsy alone made it clear there was interest in this case,” Egyes told BuzzFeed News. “When a detainee death review is conducted, it’s important to keep track of all the documents to understand why someone died, and for that reason alone, they should’ve been keeping all of this evidence.”

Hernandez’s death sparks public outrage. 

Hernandez was a native Honduran who arrived in the United States in a caravan of transgender migrants. She died two weeks after requesting asylum. Following her death, the Transgender Law Center filed a notice of wrongful death claim on her behalf to hold ICE and any other guilty parties accountable.

The LGBTQ community rallied in nationwide protests for Hernandez, some even took place outside of ICE offices and courthouses. 

Transgender Law Center releases Hernandez’s “death review.” 

In a document known as the “Detainee Death Review” for Hernandez, the law center says there are “various discrepancies in the medical treatment Roxsana received and immigration enforcement’s internal protocols.” BuzzFeed News reports that there was no indication Hernandez received antiretrovirals for HIV while she was in detention. 

“Roxsana needed medical care and yet she was cleared to be incarcerated. At numerous times throughout her days in immigration enforcement custody, the people she was detained with pleaded for her to receive medical care,” Egyes said in a statement, according to CNN

“It is clear from these records that if immigration enforcement believes that their sole duty is to shuffle people into immigration prisons, that is what they’ll do. As a result, the consequences for those who are either sick or who get sick while in their custody can be fatal.”

ICE maintains they didn’t have time to give Hernandez treatment.

Philip Farabaugh, deputy medical director for ICE Health Service Corps, says Hernandez needed lab tests before she could receive drugs or treatment. 

“Hernandez was in transit for most of her brief time with ICE. When she arrived at Cibola, such evaluation could not take place in such a short window of time prior to her transfer to the hospital,” Farabaugh said. “HIV medications are not without risks, and you don’t initiate them when other complex, life-threatening medical conditions are at hand.”

The detainee death review says that immigration officers are expected to flag any medical issues observed to health care professionals, but none were reported regarding Hernandez. Before arriving at the border, Hernandez told Buzzfeed she fled Honduras after contracting HIV due to sex worked forced by gangs. She came to the U.S. seeking tolerance and safety. 

“If DHS cannot be trusted to play by the rules, both before and after a detained migrant’s death based on these records, how can DHS be trusted to continue imprisoning migrants at all?” Free said.

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