The Department of Homeland Security’s medical personnel bungled the care for a Bahamian man in custody, mistreating a gastrointestinal problem that eventually cost him his life, an inspector general has concluded.
Jesse Dean died in early 2021 after complaining for weeks about pain to the staff at Calhoun County Jail, ICE’s contracted detention facility in Battle Creek, Michigan.
That Dean was even in ICE custody is a bizarre tale that starts in the 1990s, when he was nabbed while visiting the U.S., charged and convicted of drug trafficking. After a quarter-century in prison, he was eager to return home, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was trying to send him back.
Except he never made it.
He was in ICE custody for five weeks, constantly complaining of stomach pain. He was treated, but none of the medications worked, and he lost 17 pounds. Eventually, he began losing consciousness and suffering unexplained falls.
On Feb. 5, 2021, his blood pressure plummeted and an ambulance was called. Emergency medical technicians worked on him for 30 minutes, but Dean was declared dead.
The inspector general said the medical staff should have been more proactive in treating him as he exhibited major weight loss, hypotension and falls.
“Calhoun County Jail medical staff should have acted more swiftly to meet Mr. Dean’s needs after correlating his complaints of worsening,” said the audit, basing its conclusion on a medical team that reviewed Dean’s case and nine other deaths in Homeland Security custody in 2021.
Dean’s family said in online postings that he was stuck in ICE custody while the agency sought final travel documents to send him back to the Bahamas.
“He was thrilled to be coming home, and eager to be with his family — who he hadn’t been with for about 25 years; however, his excitement was short lived,” the family said in a GoFundMe campaign.
Reached by email, Dean’s family referred questions to the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Dean. The ACLU told The Washington Times that the family “would like to hold off on commenting at this time.”
In a summary of the case posted online, the ACLU of Michigan said it obtained documentation of Dean’s care that showed he complained at least 27 times of stomach pain, nausea and vomiting. The ACLU said he was ignored and a nurse threatened to discipline him if he continued to complain.
In a statement posted by the ACLU, Clarence Dean said his brother Jesse was trying to leave the U.S. and was working with ICE to make it happen.
“Instead, he died a slow painful death behind bars in an ICE facility, from a common treatable medical condition,” Clarence Dean said. “I hope that Jesse’s death will save the lives of others by exposing the cruel and inhumane conditions created by ICE contracting with local jails, showing their inability to properly care for the people housed there.”
Ramis Wadood, an ACLU of Michigan lawyer, said Dean was dead specifically because he was an immigrant. Had he not been in ICE custody, he wouldn’t have been subject to such shoddy care, the attorney said.
“Local police and jails should not be in the business of inhumanely caging people on behalf of ICE,” Mr. Wadood said.
In a letter posted by Innocent in Prison Project International, Dean said he was a radar controller at the airport in Nassau and worked as an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration, helping flag several large drug shipments.
He said he was shocked to be arrested in 1995 while visiting his girlfriend in Florida and accused of drug smuggling. He said he was offered plea deals starting at 30 years, then 12, then six, then a maximum of just four years if he pleaded guilty to a charge of illegal use of a telephone. He said he refused because he was innocent. He figured he would be exonerated at trial.
It was a bad bet.
He was convicted in 1997 of drug smuggling and slapped with a 30-year sentence — with deportation waiting at the end.
In court filings, Dean said he had been railroaded. He said he was secretly deactivated as an informant without being told and that some of the evidence against him was cooked up by a smuggler who was aiming for leniency at his own sentencing.
He said a key document against him — a set of instructions he insisted he never signed — had disappeared from DEA records. He also said investigators confused him with another man named Jesse Dean, who lived in Illinois and who had been on the DEA’s radar.
Federal prosecutors, responding in their own court filings in 2020 just before Dean’s release from prison and transfer to ICE, said courts repeatedly heard and rejected his claims of innocence.
The Washington Times reached out to ICE for comment in early February and again in mid-February, but the agency did not provide a response in time for this report.
Dean’s death was one of 10 investigated by the inspector general in the new audit. Five of those occurred in ICE custody, and five occurred in the custody of Customs and Border Protection.
The investigators were looking to see whether policies at either agency contributed to the deaths. The audit did not find that to be the case for any of the deaths.
Indeed, the audit concluded in most of the other cases that the agencies’ employees did all that they should have in connection with the incidents.
That includes two COVID-related deaths for ICE and several deaths of migrants whom Border Patrol agents had just nabbed after long treks to the U.S.
In one particularly poignant case, a child who came to the U.S. with her mother had a heart attack and died. The mother later informed officials that the girl had been ill for seven days and had gone without food and water for 20 hours.
The autopsy concluded that the child died of dehydration and pneumonia.
One troubling case from 2021 remains under review, according to the inspector general’s audit. That was the death of Jason Gonzalez-Lamdaverde, a Salvadoran migrant whom agents handcuffed to the hood of a Border Patrol vehicle after he became unruly and tried to escape.
They later unhooked him from the car and put him on the ground to wait for a shuttle to take him to a processing station. The vehicle arrived an hour later. When agents went to rouse the man, they found him “unresponsive.” Agents began chest compressions and called for an ambulance, but the migrant was declared dead at the scene.
CBP and the Texas Rangers are still investigating the circumstances, but the inspector general said the medical decisions were all within bounds.