Detained Teen Died Of Flu. And Of Border Patrol Not Giving A Sh*t
ProPublica has published a horrifying investigative piece on the last day in the life of Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, the 16-year-old Guatemalan boy who died in Border Patrol detention May 20. Carlos was the sixth detained child to die in less than a year -- following a decade of no child deaths in immigration detention. And while the other kids at least made it to a hospital before they died, Carlos was the only child to die in a Border Patrol facility. This story includes some gruesome details and may make you want to throw your computer out a window.
And here's a surprise: Video of the cell where Carlos died shows US Customs and Border Protection flat-out lied about important aspects of his death. CBP said in a press release that he was found dead by CPB officers during a routine safety check, about an hour after a prior check confirmed he was just fine.
The cellblock video shows Carlos writhing for at least 25 minutes on the floor and a concrete bench. It shows him staggering to the toilet and collapsing on the floor, where he remained in the same position for the next four and a half hours.
Agents didn't discover the death during a safety check; rather, Carlos's cellmate woke in the morning, found him dead, a pool of blood around his head, and got the attention of guards. CBP logs show an agent "checked" on him three times in the early morning hours, but apparently didn't enter the cell, even though Carlos was seriously ill.
The video shows the only way CBP officials could have missed Carlos' crisis is that they weren't looking. His agony was apparent, even in grainy black and white, making clear the agent charged with monitoring him failed to perform adequate checks, if he even checked at all. The coroner who performed an autopsy on Carlos said she was told the agent occasionally looked into the cell through the window
Carlos's teacher back in Guatemala, Jose Morales Pereira, didn't see the video, but told ProPublica that if someone had a sick animal, they'd at least check on it to make sure it was breathing and not in distress.
The piece is sometimes painful to read, a record of multiple points in Carlos's detention where he could have received life-saving treatment at a hospital, if anyone had cared to ensure that an increasingly sick teenager was OK. He didn't have any symptoms when he was arrested with a large group of migrants May 13 and given a medical screening -- a step CBP added after two children died in late 2018. But instead of getting him to a shelter for unaccompanied minors within the 72 hours CBP is allowed to hold kids, he was held by the Border Patrol for six days at a crowded facility in McAllen, Texas, when he said he felt ill. This was at the height of the overcrowding crisis on the border, when conditions at the facilities, meant to hold adult detainees for a few hours, were at their worst.
At 1 a.m. on May 19, he saw a nurse practitioner and complained of a headache and fever. Tests showed he had type A flu and a 103-degree fever. Nurse practitioner Irasema Gonzalez gave him ibuprofen and Tylenol and ordered Tamiflu, which is a standard treatment for flu symptoms.
Gonzalez's treatment report also said Carlos should "return to medical office in 2 hrs or sooner" and should be taken to an emergency room if his symptoms persisted or worsened. There is no record of further medical treatment over the next 19 hours in the records obtained by ProPublica.
Did he go to an ER? Nope. He was moved to a smaller CBP jail in Weslaco, Texas, so he wouldn't infect other detainees. But he wasn't given any particular monitoring or care. Another nurse he saw at the new facility, at 8 PM, gave him a dose of Tamiflu, but that nurse's report
didn't record a temperature or vital signs, leaving it unclear how thoroughly he had been examined. The report said Carlos had no medical complaints and was "in no acute distress."
Nobody at CBP is saying anything about the case, since it's still under investigation. CBP refuses to release any documents or the full video; ProPublica was able to use Texas's public records law to obtain partial CBP video and some records, which the agency had turned over to the Weslaco Police Department, which initially investigated and found there was no foul play.
While the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General investigation is still going on, the information ProPublica was able to review is damning.
"Why is a teenaged boy in a jail facility at all if he is sick with a transmissible illness? Why isn't he at a hospital or at a home or clinic where he can get a warm bed, fluids, supervised attention and medical care? He is not a criminal," said Dr. Judy Melinek, a San Francisco-based forensic pathologist who reviewed records of Carlos' death at the request of ProPublica. "No one should die this way: vomiting, with a fever and without the comfort of a caregiver."
A Johns Hopkins public health expert, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, said that Carlos didn't just suddenly keel over from flu:
Flu can progress rapidly, but it's not like a heart attack. Even when fast, it worsens over a period of hours. There should have been signs that indicated he needed to go to the hospital[.]
Like, if anyone took his pulse. Or even went in to his cell. Since his death, CBP has revised its wellness check requirements for sick detainees, requiring regular in-cell checks, including taking temperatures.
Of course, if Carlos had been moved out of the Border Patrol facility before he was so sick, he probably would have gotten better care, too. Health and Human Services' baby jails suck but they at least have medical staff.
And let's not forget that in July, ProPublica revealed a bunch of ugly, racist posts from a secret Facebook group for CBP agents. You may recall that's the group where active and former CBP agents joked about Donald Trump raping Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Members of the Facebook group also offered some insight into what some Border Patrol agents thought about Carlos's death:
In one exchange, group members responded with indifference and wisecracks to the post of a news story about a 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant who died in May while in custody at a Border Patrol station in Weslaco, Texas. One member posted a GIF of Elmo with the quote, "Oh well." Another responded with an image and the words "If he dies, he dies."
But don't worry; surely they're just bad apples, like Border Patrol agents for merely much of the agency's history.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi), chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, said last night the report on Carlos's death "calls into serious question the steps US Customs and Border Protection claims to have taken to care for a child in its custody," and urged DHS's inspector general to complete its investigation and make it public. Time for hearings, and time for some goddamned accountability.
As we like to say, please read the whole thing, if you can stomach it. This shit needs to be known.
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