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How are chemical agents used at the immigration detention center on the Tacoma Tideflats?
Feb. 15—Officials used chemical agents at the immigration detention center in Tacoma this month, where detainees are held pending the outcome of their immigration proceedings.
The Northwest ICE Processing Center, formerly the Northwest Detention Center, is a 1,575-bed facility on the Tacoma Tideflats. It's a for-profit facility that is owned and operated by The GEO Group, which contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The Seattle Times first reported that GEO guards used chemical agents Feb. 1 following a conflict about conditions at the facility, including the food served to detainees.
A statement Attorney General Bob Ferguson sent to The News Tribune Feb. 6 said, in part: "We will be looking into the details of these very serious allegations."
It's not clear whether chemical agents had been used at the immigration detention center before this month, but federal detention standards outline a protocol for how they can be used in that setting, and how that use is supposed to be reported.
Asked to confirm that chemical agents were used and to speak with someone about what policies and standards govern their use at the facility, GEO emailed a statement to The News Tribune Feb. 6 that read in part: "an incident occurred at the Northwest ICE Processing Center involving a small group of high-security detainees that were behaving in a disruptive manner, barricading themselves inside of their housing unit, and blocking security cameras, which provide additional safety for other detainees and staff. Staff were able to diffuse the initial disruption, with more than half of the detainees complying."
GEO's statement went on to say: "the remaining detainees continued to be unresponsive to staff orders and, as a matter of protocol, this resulted in the use of chemical agents. We take the use of chemical agents with the utmost seriousness and our staff follow strict federal standards as it relates to their use. Following the incident, all affected detainees were seen by on-site medical staff and cleared with no injuries."
Asked to confirm details such as what chemical agents were used, whether chemical agents have been used at the facility previously, and how many detainees were evaluated by medical staff, both GEO and ICE referred The News Tribune to one another.
ICE said in a statement sent to The News Tribune Feb. 6, in part: "During a routine inspection the morning of Feb. 1 in the housing unit where high security, including aggravated felons, detainees are held, contraband was discovered that posed a risk to the safety of noncitizens, staff, and facility. Upon discovery of the contraband razor blades, the noncitizens involved refused to follow orders and became non-compliant. After careful consideration, ERO (Enforcement and Removal Operations) authorized non-lethal use of force following applicable guidelines to ensure the safety of all people in the facility including noncitizens and staff. Once the incident was resolved, all detainees were evaluated by on-site medical staff and cleared with no injuries."
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