Deportation of witnesses in detention death halted

By Maria Sacchetti
Globe Staff / November 17, 2009

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A federal judge late yesterday temporarily halted the deportation of two immigrants, including one who was hours from being removed, who say the Suffolk County House of Correction failed to provide swift medical care to an immigrant who died Oct. 19.

US District Judge Mark L. Wolf halted the deportation of Leonel Bello last night and Domingo Martinez, whose deportation date is unknown. The two men are among six who signed a letter to the family of the late Pedro Tavarez, asserting that the jail neglected Tavarez’s care, according to a copy of the letter.

Wolf issued the order after an emergency hearing yesterday and scheduled another hearing this morning on the matter.

“All we’re asking is let us investigate,’’ lawyer Robert Sinsheimer, who represents Tavarez’s daughter Judith, said in a petition that names the state and federal government and Suffolk Sheriff Andrea Cabral. “We would think that trained investigators would be sympathetic to that simple request.’’

Suffolk County officials could not be reached late yesterday. But a spokesman for Cabral has said that the jail provides a wide range of medical care.

Suffolk was recently reviewed and received a good rating, according to federal officials.

Federal immigration officials were not immediately available for comment. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency in charge of detention and deportation, referred the case to its Office of Professional Responsibility for investigation.

Tavarez, 49, a Providence shuttle driver from the Dominican Republic, had been held for a year and a half in different detention centers as he fought deportation. He had two prior drug convictions, but his family said they were minor and they had successfully reopened his case.

Robert Sinsheimer said he and another lawyer working on the case, Lauren Thomas, determined that several witnesses to Tavarez’s decline have been deported. He said they want to take a formal deposition of the remaining witnesses to help determine whether Tavarez’s death was preventable.

Federal immigration officials have confirmed that on Oct. 16, Tavarez was taken to two hospitals before he was taken to Brigham and Women’s, where he died Oct. 19.