An Immigration and Customs Enforcement guard at an immigration jail in Virginia knelt dangerously on the upper back of a man already bleeding from his head, two detained men who said they saw the disturbing incident told The Daily Beast.
“It was like seeing George Floyd all over again,” said one detainee, whom The Daily Beast will call Glenn.
Since the incident on Monday, July 13, the detained men said that they have not seen the beaten man, identified as 31-year old Carlos Rivas Monsano. “Right now, we don’t know where he is,” a second detainee, whom The Daily Beast will call Jerry, said on Monday. A third detainee gave a similar account.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, ICE said it was investigating what is said to have happened to Rivas.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is reviewing the incident. ICE takes very seriously, allegations of misconduct in our detention facilities. We hold our personnel and contractors to the highest standards of professional and ethical behavior,” an ICE spokesperson said. “When we receive a complaint, we investigate the matter thoroughly to determine its veracity and to ensure that the comprehensive standards, which ICE is required to follow under various national detention standards, are being strictly maintained.”
The violent episode occurred at ICE’s Caroline detention facility, a 336-bed correctional center located on but independent of the Army’s Fort AP Hill base near Bowling Green, Virginia. Not far from Caroline is another ICE prison that has suffered both a COVID-19 outbreak and several recent incidents of guard violence. That prison, ICA Farmville, has occasionally transited detained people through Caroline, prompting detainee concerns about the coronavirus that are said to have sparked what happened to Rivas.
Beginning around 8pm on July 13, ICE officials informed around 25 individuals held in Caroline’s Block—called “TE,” short for “Timber Ridge East”—that a quarantine was forthcoming. All three detainees told The Daily Beast there had been widespread dissatisfaction in Block TE about what they considered insufficient information provided about ICE measures to prevent the spread of the virus inside. Concerns on the evening of July 13 included whether Block TE would quarantine together; whether detainees would receive personal protective equipment like masks; and the distribution of bleach and other cleansing products to disinfect bathrooms.
But detainees appeared to ignore or dismiss the quarantine announcement by a female officer, who summoned her superior, whom the detainees described as possessing an intimidating demeanor. The superior officer, said to be a lieutenant called a meeting in a first-floor common area and instructed Block TE detainees to listen to the female officer.
Rivas, seated on a chair, loudly yelled “No” before adding, in Glenn’s paraphrase, “We're tired of all the politics that happen here, it’s bullshit.”
The lieutenant approached Rivas and informed him he would be handcuffed for that outburst. Rivas refused an order to stand but did not otherwise physically resist. The lieutenant, described as much larger than the slight Rivas, picked Rivas up and threw him to the floor. On the way down, Rivas’ head slammed against the wall and began bleeding.
Jerry, who said he was seated five feet away from Rivas, said, “it was like they hugged him and then threw him to the ground.”
With Rivas bleeding from his head on the ground, Glenn and Jerry said, the lieutenant knelt on Rivas’ upper back. A third account differed slightly. One detainee, whom The Daily Beast will call Doyle, said another guard knelt on Rivas’ head while the lieutenant sat on Rivas’ back in a straddle position. Neither Glenn nor Jerry’s account included that.
All three detainees’ accounts said the lieutenant lifted Rivas’ right arm skyward in what appeared to be a painful contortion. With his free hand, he punched Rivas in the face multiple times, accelerating Rivas’ bleeding from his head. Another guard, all three said, grabbed Rivas’ legs at the ankles while Rivas yelled “He’s hitting me!”
Unlike George Floyd’s May 25 slaying by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, Rivas did not lose consciousness. The longest any detainee said the lieutenant knelt on Rivas’ back was four minutes, less than half of the eight minutes and 48 seconds Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s head.
But the lieutenant “was on top of him like the police officer was on top of George Floyd. His knee is on Carlos’ spinal cord,” Glenn said. Horrified Block TE residents screamed for the guards to let Rivas go and get him help.
Instead, a rush of guards entered the room and formed a line separating them from their colleagues restraining Rivas. All three detainees said they were armed with pepper spray but did not use it on the detainees.
Guards picked the bleeding Rivas off the floor and carried him out of the first-floor room. Bloodstains were said to be visible on the ground outside Rivas’ room # 14. Detainees were told to return to their rooms, where other guards interviewed them about what they saw. Glenn opted for silence. “They manipulate everything you say,” he explained.
According to all three, approximately seven of the 25 witnesses were sent to The Hole, or solitary confinement. The detainees understood that to be witness intimidation.
Rumors abound about what happened to Rivas. Some said they believed he was taken to the infirmary or a nearby hospital. It is unclear if he has legal representation. All three said they had not seen or heard from him since the July 13 incident.
“They didn’t need that level of force,” said Jerry, who put what happened to Rivas in the context of dorm-wide fright about coronavirus.
A captain returned to the scene with a doctor, Jerry said, “and the doctor gave us the response we were looking for. The doctor said ‘we’re putting you in quarantine, we’re not saying you have to leave your unit.’ Put your mask on and maintain a distance of six feet from one person to the other. From the first time, if they had given us that answer, we wouldn’t have had a problem. We just want answers.”