Immigrant Dies in GEO Group Facility After Three Weeks of Ignored Symptoms, Says Attorney

A Salvadoran immigrant detained at a GEO Group facility in California died only three days after being admitted to the hospital and being diagnosed with cancer. And now an immigrant advocacy group is calling for an investigation into the death, which it says happened after several weeks of warning signs that weren't addressed by medical staff at the facility.

Raúl Ernesto Morales Ramos, 44, is said to have had experienced “unusual bleeding,” according to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) press release. He was detained at GEO Group's Adelanto, California, facility and taken to Palmdale Regional Medical Center on April 3, where he was diagnosed with cancer. He died during the early hours of Monday, April 6.

Christina Fialho, executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), tells New Times that her organization had received numerous complaints from detainees for three weeks “about a man who was suffering from diarrhea, severe abdominal pain, and uncontrollable leakage of urine."

She adds: "When this man asked for a catheter, medical staff at Adelanto denied him. It is our understanding that he suffered from multiple bladder accidents and was forced to remain in his wet clothes for hours before he was provided with alternate clothing. He was eventually put in GEO's infirmary and then hospitalized."

Boca-based GEO Group did not respond to our request for comment about the death of one of its detainees. The private company that relies on government contracts to run prisons and jails rarely comments on issues unrelated to its stock prices.

Morales-Ramos isn't the first immigrant to die while in ICE custody at the GEO Group-run facility in Adelanto. In 2012, Fernando Dominguez Valdivia died three months after being placed in the facility for immigration violations. According to ICE, the cause of death was pneumonia. According to family members, Dominguez had been sick for weeks before he was finally taken to a hospital for treatment. And the U.S. Office of Detention Oversight found that GEO Group staff made "egregious errors" in the care of Dominguez.

Dominguez's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against GEO Group that is still pending, according to attorneys for the family contacted by New Times.

Fialho says the deaths of Dominguez and Morales-Ramos, along with other alleged patterns of abuse at the Adelanto facility, are proof that an independent commission needs to investigate and monitor GEO Group's handling of immigrants detained in the California facility.

"Reported abuses at Adelanto include inadequate health care, lack of sufficient food, harassment by GEO staff of both people in detention and visitors, overuse of solitary confinement, and more," says Fialho.

Despite the problems associated with GEO Group's Adelanto facility, plans are in the works to expand by 640 beds later this year. 

Morales-Ramos had been in ICE custody since February 25, 2010, when he was arrested by ICE authorities to be extradited to El Salvador for charges of a murder-for-hire plot that killed three people. The story is twisted and tragic: In 2003, Morales-Ramos' wife and three kids were killed in a car accident that was eventually blamed on the State of California's roadways and a settlement was reached for $10.5 million. But Morales-Ramos' deceased wife, Ana Marisol Erazo, had two other children back in El Salvador who weren't named as recipients of the settlement — and that's where the rumors start.

Morales-Ramos allegedly offered the two stepchildren — Erick and Daísa — $35,000 each, but the 18-year-old son rejected the offer, according to La Opinion, and threatened to sue. Allegedly unwilling to share the $10.5 million, Morales-Ramos is accused of hiring two hit men to take care of Erick. But the hit men ended up killing three other relatives instead, including two people in their late 70s, in May 2008. Erick wasn't home at the time of the murders. The killers were eventually nabbed and sentenced to 70 years.

After Morales-Ramos' arrest for extradition in 2010, he denied the charges and fought to be able to stay in the U.S. But with his extradition pending, he was forced to be detained in the immigration facility. At the time of his death, he had a petition for review pending in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
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Ray Downs
Contact: Ray Downs