U.S. officials allegedly drugged 2 deportees

Times Staff Writers

U.S. immigration officials sedated two foreign nationals against their will during failed attempts to deport them in Los Angeles, the men and their attorneys said Tuesday.

Indonesian immigrant Raymond Soeoth, 38, who was appealing his case for political asylum, was sedated with antipsychotic drugs in December 2004 at a San Pedro detention facility; Senegal immigrant Amadou Diouf, 31, also pursuing an appeal for permanent legal status, was medicated in February 2006 while on a commercial plane at Los Angeles International Airport, according to both men and the medical files they said they obtained from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. May 12, 2007 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday May 12, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Deportees: In an article in Wednesday’s California section about the alleged drugging of two deportees by immigration officials, Albany Law School professor Paul Finkelman’s name was misspelled as Finkleman.

“It’s horrifying,” said American Civil Liberties Union attorney Ahilan Arulanantham, who represents the two. “It’s blatantly illegal. You cannot inject people with psychotropic drugs if they are not mentally ill.”

The ACLU, with assistance from the law firm of Munger, Tolles and Olson, is investigating the incidents, which were first reported in the Los Angeles Daily Journal. Arulanantham said neither of his clients has been treated for mental illness.

Soeoth and Diouf have been released. Their cases are pending at the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.


Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials declined to comment on the cases, but a U.S. Public Health Services official said authorities do sedate immigrants during deportation if they have a psychiatric disorder, are severely agitated during a flight or present a danger to themselves or others.

Dr. Tim Shack, medical director for the Division of Immigration Health Services, said medical escorts, who include nurses and doctors, sedate detainees against their will if they fail to respond to verbal counseling and physical restraints and still present an “imminent risk of danger.”

In some cases, the agency gets a court order to administer medication. The drugs are given by escorts who accompany detainees with medical or psychological problems as they are transferred or deported. Medications commonly used are lorazepam, haloperidol, olanzapine and benztropine.

Soeoth, a Chinese Christian, fled Indonesia in 1999 to escape religious persecution. He applied for asylum but lost the case. He later appealed.

On Dec. 7, 2004, Soeoth said, immigration agents told him he was going to be deported. They did not give him a chance to call his attorney or his wife, he said.

An agent asked how he felt and if he wanted medication. Soeoth said he replied that he felt OK and that he didn’t want any drugs. But a few hours later, Soeoth said, several agents came into the room where he was being held and told him they had to medicate him. Soeoth said the agents grabbed his arms and legs, pushed him onto a bench, pulled down his pants and injected him in the buttocks.

“Why are they doing this to me?” Soeoth recalled thinking before losing consciousness and being taken to the airport. “I am no animal.”

His medical files indicate that Soeoth may have threatened to kill himself, but he said this was not true.

After they got to the airport, airline security officials canceled Soeoth’s removal because of a lack of proper notification by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to his medical file.

Diouf came into the country from Senegal on a student visa in 1996 but overstayed because he began dating an American citizen, whom he later married. He was ordered deported but is appealing his case.

The night before his flight, Diouf said, agents told him he was going to be deported. He said he replied that he had a stay of deportation. But the next morning, Diouf said, agents told him he was being sent to his native country.

A medical escort -- with a syringe in his pocket -- told him they would be on a commercial plane and could not afford to have any problems, he said. Another agent offered to give him pills, he said.

On the plane, Diouf, who was handcuffed, said he told a flight attendant in French that he wanted to speak to the captain so he could tell him about the stay. The medical escort told him he wasn’t following orders and took out the syringe and a bottle of water. Diouf said he began yelling as the agents wrestled him to the floor and injected him.

A note in the medical file said that he was not following orders and that he was “taken to the ground on board the aircraft after being given medication.”

Diouf said the captain ordered them all off the plane.

“That was a pretty humiliating ordeal,” he said. “I don’t think I was making trouble. I just wanted to speak to the captain.”

Although unaware of the cases until contacted Tuesday, legal experts expressed outrage at the alleged treatment of the two men and practice of sedating deportees.

“It is inappropriate to give these kinds of injections and put people on aircraft in violation of the federal air regulations that prohibit the transport of drugged individuals,” said professor Abraham R. Wagner of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. “It is not how America’s constitutional democracy is supposed to operate in this century.”

Another nationally recognized expert on homeland security issues and the law, Paul Finkleman of Albany Law School in New York, was equally harsh in his criticism and discounted the notion that deportees’ combativeness or threats of suicide would justify drugging them.

“If you are using anti-psychotic drugs as a means of controlling people who do not need to be controlled, then the medical people are violating their own oaths as physicians and nurses and violating federal law by administering these drugs,” he said.

Though data on such cases are hard to come by, Arizona immigration attorney Dan Kowalski said the concern about deportees being drugged has been around for years. Kowalski said the practice is part of a disturbing pattern that immigration officials are using extraordinary -- and unnecessary -- tactics to deport illegal immigrants who pose no danger.

“Because the subjects are not citizens, they are fair game for abuse and mistreatment,” he said.

In the last several years, Denver attorney Sandra Saltrese said, she has had two deportation clients who were allegedly drugged before being sent out of the U.S. In both cases, she said, the men were seeking asylum.

“These men were docile ... they were not suicidal,” she said.