Chief out after likening jail to Guantanamo

By Ray Henry
Associated Press / April 29, 2009
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CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. - The chairman of a quasi-public jail where a Chinese immigrant was allegedly abused before he died has been fired for publicly comparing the facility to a motel or prison camp for terrorism suspects in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Mayor Charles Moreau of Central Falls said yesterday.

Moreau fired Daniel Cooney, chairman of the Central Falls Detention Facility Corp., Monday after Cooney made the remarks about the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in an interview published in The Providence Journal.

The mayor apologized yesterday for Cooney's remarks, which he called callous, insensitive, and reckless. He promised to meet with community leaders to hear their concerns.

"Comparing the facility to one of our nation's most controversial detention centers clearly demonstrates he does not share my goal to restore public confidence in the operations of the Wyatt Detention Facility," Moreau said in a written statement.

The detention facility has been roiled since detainee Hiu Lui "Jason" Ng died in August of liver cancer, weeks after arriving at Wyatt. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigated Ng's death and decided to remove its 153 detainees from Wyatt in December.

The investigation concluded that Ng was mistreated, including being dragged down a hallway by guards despite having a note from a doctor that should have allowed him to use a wheelchair. Ng was denied medications when he could not walk to his cell door to accept them, the report said.

Ng's wife has filed a federal lawsuit seeking unspecified damages for wrongful death and civil rights violations.

Losing prisoners has cost the prison nearly $2 million as it tries to repay bonds issued to build the facility and later expand it. As a result, Cooney said he wanted to lobby the state's congressional delegation to get the immigration prisoners returned to Wyatt.

"Frankly, I'm looking at it like I'm running a Motel 6," Cooney told the newspaper. "I don't care if it's Guantanamo Bay. We want to fill the beds."

In a telephone interview yesterday, Cooney said he meant that Wyatt should seek prisoners from any source, possibly including terrorism suspects, to fix its financial problems. "I was simply talking about they have a need for beds, we have a need for population," Cooney told the Associated Press.