Wrongful death lawsuit filed after death of man held in Aurora immigration detention center

Last Updated by Brittany Freeman on

The family of a longtime Colorado resident who died nearly two years ago in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) filed a wrongful death lawsuit Tuesday against the private company that operates ICE's Aurora detention facility and its former doctor. 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Colorado is representing the three adult children of Kamyar Samimi in their lawsuit against the GEO Group, which operates the private detention facility under contract with ICE. 

"We wanted them to be accountable for what they did [and] bring light from what happened to our father, and change that ... so that this doesn't happen again," Tony Samimi, Kamyar Samimi's son, told Rocky Mountain PBS. "My father was a great man. My best friend."

In May of 2019, Rocky Mountain PBS published an internal ICE report which found numerous deficiencies in the care Kamyar Samimi received during the two weeks he spent in the detention center before he died.

Samimi, 64, was a lawful permanent resident who lived in the United States for more than 40 years after immigrating legally from Iran. ICE said it detained him in November of 2017 because a drug possession conviction from 2005 "rendered him removable."

Samimi told detention center staff upon being booked that he had been receiving prescription methadone treatment for years. His family is also suing the facility's former doctor, Dr. Jeffrey Elam Peterson.

"Dr. Peterson, the only full-time physician at the facility, cut Mr. Samimi off his methadone cold turkey. That action was medically unjustifiable. Then, Dr. Peterson failed to treat and respond properly to Mr. Samimi’s severe withdrawal symptoms," the lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit accuses GEO and Dr. Peterson of violating the federal Rehabilitation Act, claiming they discriminated against Samimi on the basis of a disability: opioid use disorder.

"Mr. Samimi suffered intentional discrimination at GEO solely because he was addicted to opioids," the ACLU claims in the lawsuit. "GEO’s policies and practices manifested deliberate intentional discrimination and/or deliberate indifference to the likelihood that detainees with opioid use disorder would suffer illegal discrimination in GEO’s facility."

The lawsuit amplifies findings in the ICE report that some medical staff dismissed Samimi's intensifying symptoms because they believed he may be faking to seek drugs. Samimi's son said those details of the investigation were especially difficult to hear.

"I know my father, and he's a very honest and intelligent man. He's not one to be dramatic and do something like that. So it was very disheartening," Tony Samimi said.

A GEO Group spokesperson sent RMPBS this statement in response to the lawsuit:

“GEO strongly rejects these allegations. The Processing Centers we manage on behalf of ICE are top-rated by independent accreditation entities, including the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, and provide high-quality residential care. We are committed to providing a safe and secure environment for everyone in our care."

The family is seeking an award of compensatory damages, including attorneys' fees, and "any further or other relief the Court deems just and proper."

ICE is not named as a defendant in the litigation. Both ICE and GEO have said they are looking to add a second doctor to the Aurora detention facility's staff, and GEO said it increased the number of medical positions when ICE expanded the detention center's contracted capacity earlier this year.

WEB EXTRA: Kamyar Samimi's children and the ACLU discuss their wrongful death lawsuit

Kamyar Samimi's daughter told RMPBS Tuesday she hopes to see more changes for the sake of the people  detained there.

"We need more doctors, we need more medical staff, more standard practices, better training," Neda Samimi-Gomez said. "There has to be more thought and consideration applied to all of these things. It's human lives that we're talking about."

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