CoreCivic, a private prison operations corporation which was recently sued in connection with a wrongful death that occurred at the Torrance County Detention Facility in Estancia, has denied the allegations of the lawsuit.

“We are deeply saddened by and take very seriously the passing of any individual in our care,” CoreCivic spokesperson Brian Todd wrote in an email.

The lawsuit alleges that Brazilian asylum seeker Kesley Vial, who killed himself at the facility in August 2022, was not properly supervised by staff at the facility despite significant and demonstrable stress.

But Todd wrote that was not the case.

“Our facilities have trained emergency response teams who work to ensure that any detainee in distress receives appropriate medical care,” he wrote. “With regard to Mr. Vial, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) investigation of his death did not identify staffing or access to medical professionals as a contributing factor.”

According to an ICE news release at the time, “Vial was found unresponsive by detention facility staff. TCDF medical personnel began life-saving efforts and contacted local paramedics. Emergency medical personnel arrived at the scene, took over efforts to save Vial’s life, and transported Vial to UNMH for further evaluation.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is helping represent the Vial family along with the law firm of Coyle & Benoit, claim conditions at the facility did contribute to Vial’s despondency, as did the facility’s actions that led to his death.

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“The lawsuit identifies serious systemic failures and shortcomings in the facility’s mental health care and charges that CoreCivic’s extreme negligence resulted in Kesley’s tragic and preventable death,” according to an ACLU release.

“For most of the time Vial was detained, he was held in inhumane conditions at TCDF while awaiting his deportation,” the release continued. “He was desperate to leave the detention facility — though it meant returning to Brazil — but the date of his scheduled deportation was repeatedly postponed, and his mental health began to severely deteriorate.”

This, however, is not accurate, Todd wrote.

“It’s important to note that CoreCivic does not enforce immigration laws or policies or have any say whatsoever in an individual’s deportation or release,” he wrote. “Those decisions are solely made by our government partners at ICE.”

ICE claims that, “all people in ICE custody receive medical, dental, and mental health intake screening within 12 hours of arriving at each detention facility, a full health assessment within 14 days of entering ICE custody or arrival at a facility, and access to daily sick call and 24-hour emergency care,” adding that it is “firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and undertaking a comprehensive agency-wide review of this incident, as it does in all such cases.”

Nevertheless, the lawsuit claims, “CoreCivic was responsible for keeping Kesley safe while he was detained in TCDF, but when it mattered most, staff disregarded critical red flags,” said Rebecca Sheff, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of New Mexico. “His death was preventable, and CoreCivic’s negligence led to his young life being tragically cut short.”

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