In June 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, Sutherland, and Attorney Brian Spears settled a wrongful death suit against the US Government for $1 million on behalf of Sara Hernandez-Gonzalez, the widow of Roberto Medina-Martinez. Earlier that year, in March 2012, Hernandez-Gonzalez's legal team filed claim, in US District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, against the US Government alleging negligence which led to the death of Mr. Medina. Mr. Medina was a 39 year-old man from Mexico who was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Stewart Detention Center. Mr. Medina died while in ICE custody at St. Francis Hospital in Columbus, Georgia, on March 11, 2009, from acute myocarditis. The condition is an inflammation of the heart muscle that is usually caused by a viral infection and is often treatable.

“The records obtained by the ACLU show that Roberto Medina-Martinez was the victim of systemic negligence on the part of the medical staff at the Stewart Detention Center resulting in his unnecessary death,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project Director with the ACLU of Georgia.

The Government’s negligence included the staff’s failure to have medical examinations signed by a physician in violation of Department of Homeland Security’s Division of Immigration Health Services (DIHS) policy and the failure to note Mr. Medina’s chest x-ray as abnormal. The Government’s negligence also included the pervasive failure on the part of the lead physician to review health records, the proper review of which combined with appropriate follow-up could have prevented Mr. Medina’s death.

This failure was not an aberration. An investigation conducted following Mr. Medina’s death revealed that the physician was systematically failing to conduct the required review of the medical examination information, thereby jeopardizing the health of the entire detention center population.

The lawsuit against the US Government charged that negligent acts and omissions of the Government or its agents caused the death of Mr. Medina and asked the court to award damages to Mr. Medina’s widow for his wrongful death.

Attorneys on the case included J. Dean Marshall and Benjamin Morgan of Sutherland; Chara Fisher Jackson and Shahshahani of the ACLU of Georgia; and Spears.

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