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Medical examiner: Eloy immigration detainee committed suicide

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Medical examiner: Eloy immigration detainee committed suicide

  • Activists demonstrate outside the Eloy Detention Center on Saturday.
    Puente Human Rights MovementActivists demonstrate outside the Eloy Detention Center on Saturday.

An immigrant who died in custody at the Eloy Detention Center last month committed suicide, according to an autopsy report released Wednesday by the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner. 

Jose de Jesus Denis-Sahagun., a 31-year old Mexican national was found dead in his cell by staff on May 20 at the center 50 miles north of Tucson, two days after arriving at the facility. 

Dr. Gregory Hess, the chief medical examiner, found that Deniz-Sahagun died of asphyxiation after shoving one of his knee-high orange socks down his throat. A small white plastic handle, probably from a toothbrush was found in Deniz-Sahagun's stomach, said Hess. 

There were no other injuries to Deniz-Sahagun's mouth, face or neck. A minor scalp injury found on the body could have come during an arrest, or when Deniz-Sahagun was restrained by officers, said Hess. 

One day before his suicide, Deniz-Sahagun was evaluated by a mental health provider for "delusional thoughts and behaviors for which he had to be restrained by corrections staff," the report said. Believing that Deniz-Sahagun had suicidal thoughts, officials placed him on a constant watch. 

The next day, officials removed the watch order and placed Deniz-Sahagun in a single person cell with regular 15 minute security checks, Hess said.  

Video footage of the cell made available to Hess shows Deniz-Sahagun at his cell door at 4:57 p.m. Then at 5:33 p.m. emergency medical personal enter the cell. The video shows that in the hour before his death, officers checked on Deniz-Sahagun four to five times. 

Emergency responders attempted to revive him, but were unsuccessful, said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

Early Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva responded to public pressure and sent a letter to the Justice Department asking for an investigation into Deniz-Sahagun's death. 

Deniz-Sahagun was arrested on May 15 when he ran into the pedestrian lane at the Port of Entry in Douglas, Arizona. 

ICE said that he had been deported back to Mexico twice in the last four years, including an expedited removal in April 2013 after he was arrested by U.S. Border Patrol near Calexico, California. 

Deniz-Sahagun is the fourth detainee to die in ICE custody in fiscal year 2015, the agency said. 

In 2013, two detainees committed suicide by hanging themselves in their cells at the Eloy Detention Center, and since October 2003 there have been 14 deaths at the facility, which holds 1,550 immigration detainees.

The death of Deniz-Sahagun was the focus of a protest by nearly 200 detainees on Saturday, who demanded an independent investigation, as well as changes to conditions at the detention center.

In a statement released Wednesday night, ICE said it's Office of Professional Responsibility will begin reviewing Deniz-Sahagun's death later this month. 

"ICE is committed to ensuring the safety all those in its custody," the agency said, noting that it will review the Eloy facility's compliance with the agency's standards and policies, including those related to suicide prevention and intervention.

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