Family of first person in immigration custody to die from COVID-19 files wrongful death lawsuit

The family of Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia, who died in immigration custody after contracting the coronavirus during an outbreak at Otay Mesa Detention Center, has sued the federal government as well as the private prison company in charge of the facility.

Escobar Mejia was the first person to die in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement because of COVID-19. Eight in total have died from the virus since the pandemic began.

The lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of California by Escobar Mejia’s three siblings, alleges negligence, deliberate indifference to serious health and safety needs and wrongful death.

The complaint argues that officials held Escobar Mejia in conditions that they “knew would expose him to a deadly disease.”

“CoreCivic deprived him of adequate personal protective equipment, proper social distance, and appropriate treatment, all with the knowledge and participation of ICE and its officials,” the complaint says. “His death did not have to happen.”

ICE, the agency responsible for immigration detention, and CoreCivic, the private prison company that owns and operates Otay Mesa Detention Center, said that they do not comment on pending litigation.

CoreCivic referred back to its statement at the time of Escobar Mejia’s death.

“We extend our heartfelt sympathy to this individual’s loved ones,” the company said at the time.

Both ICE and CoreCivic have defended themselves against criticism from detainees, attorneys and even some CoreCivic staff about their handling of an outbreak at the facility in the spring that infected more than 200 detainees and inmates and left Escobar Mejia dead. They’ve said that they followed guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention throughout the pandemic.

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