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GBI Changes Course, Releases Investigation Of Immigrant Detainee’s Death In Georgia

After apparent pressure from media organizations, as well as immigrant advocates and lawyers, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation released documents detailing its investigation into the apparent in-custody suicide of Efrain de la Rosa, a detainee at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia.
After apparent pressure from media organizations, as well as immigrant advocates and lawyers, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation released documents detailing its investigation into the apparent in-custody suicide of Efrain de la Rosa, a detainee at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia.
Credit Kate Brumback / Associated Press file

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has released documents detailing its investigation into the apparent in-custody suicide of Efrain de la Rosa, a detainee at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, in South Georgia.

The agency had withheld details of the investigation after a lawyer for CoreCivic, which operates the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility, sent a letter to the GBI saying releasing the information would be “contrary to federal law.”

“It would appear that only the federal government can make disclosure of such records to the public,” wrote Steve Curry, a lawyer for CoreCivic, in an email to the GBI.

But after apparent pressure from media organizations, as well as immigrant advocates and lawyers, the GBI has released its investigation. The disclosure is in keeping with the agency’s handling of previous reviews of deaths at Stewart.

“We are encouraged that they now seem to have changed course and actually looked at the law as opposed to relying on CoreCivic’s interpretation of the law,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, legal and advocacy director of Project South.

Shahshahani said her organization will review the investigative records released by the GBI, as did a lawyer representing de la Rosa’s family, Andrew Free.

“Transparency and accountability die in the darkness,” said Free. “Most of the information that we get in these sorts of investigations would not otherwise be released or even investigated for people who managed to live through their time detained at these places.”

De la Rosa was a 40-year-old Mexican citizen who was detained by ICE in Wake County, North Carolina.

A nurse at Stewart told GBI investigators de la Rosa was always pleasant and smiling, but she was aware he had “mental health problems.”

The nurse said de la Rosa has been on suicide watch in the past.

His death in July was the third at the detention center since May 2017, and the second apparent suicide.

In May 2017, Jean Jimenez-Joseph was found unresponsive in his cell with a sheet around his neck after he had been placed in solitary confinement. He was taking medication for schizophrenia.

An investigation by WABE and the podcast Reveal, following the death of Jimenez-Joseph, uncovered that, at the time, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General identified widespread problems at Stewart.

The inspector general’s office pointed to shortages in the facility’s medical staff. Stewart’s health services administrator noted “chronic shortages of almost all medical staff positions.”

At the time, a spokesperson for ICE, which is responsible for detainees’ medical and mental health care at Stewart, said staff ratios were “compliant with agency policy.”