An immigrant rights group is calling for an independent investigation after a Salvadoran man died while in U.S. immigration custody after months of incarceration at a privately run detention center that has been accused of medical neglect in the past.
Raul Ernesto Morales-Ramos, 44, died Monday after being transferred from Adelanto Detention Center to a hospital in Palmdale, according to a statement from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He had been in ICE custody since 2010, and was fighting extradition to El Salvador to face criminal charges, the agency said Tuesday.
According to ICE, Morales-Ramos was taken to the hospital on Friday after he experienced “unusual bleeding.” Tests at the hospital indicated that he had intestinal cancer and required inpatient care and possible surgery, the statement said.
Christina Fialho, an attorney who helps runs a visitation program at Adelanto, said doctors at the detention center did not do enough to help Morales-Ramos, even when he complained about worsening symptoms.
In the three weeks leading up to his death, Fialho said her organization received multiple complaints from others detained at Adelanto “about a man who was suffering from diarrhea, severe abdominal pain and uncontrollable leakage of urine.”
“When this man asked for a catheter, medical staff at Adelanto denied him,” said Fialho, who called for an outside investigation into the death.
ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which investigates detainee deaths, has begun an inquiry. The Los Angeles County coroner’s office is conducting an autopsy.
GEO Group, the Florida-based prison company that is paid roughly $100 per detainee per day to operate the detention center, did not respond to requests for comment.
The Adelanto facility has been accused of neglect in the past.
In 2012, a Mexican immigrant named Fernando Dominguez died of pneumonia after being detained at Adelanto. He was one of 141 people to die in ICE custody between 2003 and 2013, according to agency data.
An inspection report that year by the Department of Homeland Security said Dominguez “received an unacceptable level of medical care” at the facility, and that his death could have been prevented. A medical malpractice suit filed by his family against GEO is pending.
An inspection report from 2014 found that medical care at Adelanto met the agency’s standards.
Morales-Ramos was transferred to Adelanto last May after spending four years in ICE detention at two other Southern California facilities.
He was arrested in 2010 after authorities in El Salvador charged him with conspiracy to commit aggravated homicide, ICE officials say.
According to news reports in El Salvador, Morales-Ramos was accused of hiring a hit man to kill several relatives in his home country, allegedly so he wouldn’t have to share a multimillion-dollar settlement he won after his wife and their three children died in a California road accident.
Morales-Ramos was ordered deported in August 2010, but filed multiple legal appeals seeking to block his removal, ICE said. At the time of his death, Morales had a petition for review pending before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
His brother, who lives in the U.S., is arranging to have his body sent back to El Salvador and is considering filing a lawsuit, according to Julio Calderon, vice consul at the Consulate General of El Salvador in Los Angeles.