The Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders sparred with a number of activists over a probe into the death of a local prisoner who was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The majority of those in attendance were there to follow up on how the county will investigate the death of Rolando Meza Espinoza, who died while being held inside the Hudson County jail in Kearny on June 10th after being detained by ICE weeks earlier.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security previously indicated that Espinoza died from internal bleeding and hemorrhagic shock.
In front of the board was a resolution that would create a four-person ad hoc medical review committee to examine the procedures that took place at the jail before Espinoza’s death.
Freeholder Bill O’Dea (D-2) called the situation a tragedy, but also said it was the board’s duty to review the care provided by the CFG Health Network (the jail’s healthcare provider).
“He was the ‘wrong’ Mr. Espinoza: that in itself is a tragedy,” began O’Dea.
“To what occurred with the care he should’ve received from the minute an intake was done at that facility, onto the point and time where he passed away, we as a board have a legislative obligation because we have a multi-, multi-billion dollar contract with an outside provider.”
Troy Mack, a representative from Veterans for American Ideals, was one of several public speakers who felt the agenda item in question was too short-sighted.
“With respect Freeholder O’Dea, and with deep respect for your advocacy on such issues, this agenda item should be tabled precisely because the scope in which it is written presently only calls for an evaluation of the medical services that are being deployed presently by the facility,” expressed Mack.
Hudson Civic Action Founder and Executive Director Steve Ramshur agreed, calling for a “fully transparent, public investigative hearing.”
Jersey City attorney Howard Moskowitz was particularly angered by the fact that the ad hoc committee would only have four members instead of five, meaning that their proceedings would not have to operate under the Open Public Meetings Act.
“We put five members on there, only three show up, [that] defeats the purpose,” argued Jersey City Freeholder E. Junior Maldonado.
Moskowitz was nearly escorted out of the room by a sheriff’s officer after he refused to sit down when his time expired, but cooler heads prevailed.
Al Campana, the chief operating officer of CFG, said they are open to any form of oversight or investigation when a negative outcome occurs.
“If we have a negative outcome, or an unexpected negative outcome, particularly: there is an investigation, and there is responses – we are accountable,” explained Campana.
Eventually, the measure was unanimously approved by a vote of 9-0, with Freeholders O’Dea, Maldonado and Romano assuring that this was just the first step of the process.
Romano also defended the conditions of the jail, specifically those who said they were “deplorable.”
Even after the vote, some public speakers took the time to ask the board not to renew their controversial 287g agreement with ICE, including American Civil Liberties Union staff member Andrea Long.
“The ACLU urge[s] the board of chosen freeholders to sever all ties with immigration customs enforcement. ICE officers routinely violate [the] humane and civil rights of immigrants and these violations have become more numerous and egregious under the Trump administration,” said Long.
At the his State of the County address in February, Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise said that he stood by the guidelines of the 287 program set by the Obama administration, though he subsequently told Hudson County View he would push to cancel the agreement if President Donald Trump implemented changes.