The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and a private Albuquerque attorney have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against CoreCivic, the for-profit company that operates the Torrance County Detention Facility in Estancia.
ACLU-NM and Coyle & Benoit, PLLC filed the civil suit in the First Judicial District in Santa Fe on Tuesday on behalf of the estate of Kesley Vial, a Brazilian man who sought asylum in the U.S. last year. Vial died by suicide* after spending an additional two months in detention after he lost his immigration hearing in June of last year. Vial was held in immigration detention from April 2022 until staff found him unresponsive in a cell on August 17, 2022.
The lawsuit alleges both negligence and medical negligence by CoreCivic, whose staff were aware of Vial’s deteriorating mental health, according to the complaint. In May, shortly after Vial entered the Torrance County facility, documents show that a mental health professional assessed Vial and found that he suffered suicide ideation at age 14 but none since, according to the complaint.
But, over the course of the next few months, Vial’s mental health visibly worsened, the complaint states. On June 15th, just a few days after he lost his immigration hearing, he told a mental health professional at TCDF that he had been crying, couldn’t sleep and that he had engaged in self-harm, according to the complaint. He also, at that time, disclosed that he had a history of self-mutilation, the complaint states.
Vial also told another mental health professional that he had attempted to die by suicide twice in his past, that he suffered chronic depression and anxiety and that he felt depressed and was experiencing suicide ideation while at TCDF, the complaint states.
Behavioral health staff prescribed medication for depression and anxiety to Vial but did not receive informed consent from Vial regarding potential side effects for the medications that could have increased risk of self-harm and suicide ideation for his age group, the complaint states.
Vial’s mental health appeared to improve in the early months of July but he then reported to behavioral health staff that he had been assaulted in his housing unit, according to the complaint.
Vial believed he was about to be deported in July but when U.S. Customs did not deport Vial his mental health deteriorated further and after a three-day period without medications he experienced auditory hallucinations, homicidal ideation and increased anxiety, according to the complaint. During another psychological evaluation in late July, Vial was found to have a family history of suicide attempts or a diagnosis that required hospitalization, according to the complaint.
Staff put Vial on suicide watch in early August for at least a few days but after being released back to the general population he continued to experience depression and anxiety and paranoid delusions, although he was taking medications, according to the complaint.
Vial thought for a second time that U.S. Customs was deporting him in August, the complaint states. During a routine count by CoreCivic staff to ensure all detainees are accounted for in the facility on August 17, Vial took a bed sheet from his own cell and went to an empty cell where he had not been assigned and was in the cell by himself for about 30 minutes before an officer found him unresponsive, according to the complaint.
Despite efforts to revive him, Vial never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead by hospital staff on August 24.
Brian Todd, manager of public affairs for CoreCivic, said the following in an email:
“We are deeply saddened by and take very seriously the passing of any individual in our care. Our facilities have trained emergency response teams who work to ensure that any detainee in distress receives appropriate medical care.”
“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. ICE’s statement related to Mr. Vial’s passing can be found here.”
“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. Those decisions are solely made by our government partners at ICE,” Todd said.
Vial’s family said in a released statement that they are devastated by his death. Rebecca Sheff, senior staff attorney at ACLU-NM, said Vial’s death “was preventable.”
“CoreCivic was responsible for keeping Kesley safe while he was detained in TCDF, but when it mattered most, staff disregarded critical red flags,” Sheff said through a news release. “His death was preventable, and CoreCivic’s negligence led to his young life being tragically cut short.”
Note: *If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or considering self-harm or suicide, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or 988.