WASHINGTON – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a federal lawsuit against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for the unlawful deletion of video surveillance footage at Glades County Detention Center (Glades). Glades is an ICE detention center located in Moore Haven, Florida, that has been the subject of multiple civil rights complaints and federal investigations concerning inhumane treatment, abuse, and medical neglect.
The lawsuit claims Glades is unlawfully deleting its facility surveillance video and violating federal law and an ICE contractual requirement to retain footage for at least three years. Although ICE had instructed facilities like Glades to retain all video surveillance data, the agency failed to report this deleted footage to NARA as required by law and to ensure that its contractor, Glades County, was in compliance.
“ICE has been aware of Glades County’s unlawful practice of deleting footage for over a year and has yet to take any action against Glades to repair the issue, especially during such a pivotal moment when allegations of abuse can be confirmed with that video,” said Katie Blankenship, deputy legal director at the ACLU of Florida. “It’s time to hold ICE accountable for contractors who violate federal law and fail to meet the standards of immigration detention.”
This new case comes months after ICE and NARA received an administrative complaint about the violation, which requested that NARA and ICE require Glades to preserve surveillance video footage and recover the surveillance video footage that was unlawfully deleted. Yet, ICE has failed to take any action to correct these abuses, recover video footage, or ensure that Glades County is in compliance with federal law.
“Despite clear evidence that Glades County Detention Center is illegally deleting video that could substantiate claims of abuse of detained immigrants, ICE has failed to take necessary enforcement action against the facility. By failing to properly oversee Glades and other detention contractors, ICE is thwarting the public’s right to know about the conditions of taxpayer-funded ICE detention facilities,” said CREW Senior Counsel Nikhel Sus. "The public needs a full accounting of any violations that occurred at the Glades County Detention Center, and that starts with ICE and NARA enforcing recordkeeping laws against the facility. ICE's and NARA's failure to do so will only result in further secrecy within a system already sorely lacking in oversight and transparency.”
Glades has a long history of horrific conditions and human rights abuses, and the destroyed video footage could be critical to substantiate reports of abuse against individuals detained at Glades. The detention center has received nationwide backlash for its patterns of racialized violence, sexually abusive behavior, medical neglect, and inhumane treatment of immigrants. In March 2022, ICE transferred all remaining individuals out of Glades County Detention Center and announced it would limit its use of the facility, citing “persistent and ongoing concerns related to the provision of…medical care.”
“This case illustrates the real importance of federal record-keeping requirements," said Arthur Spitzer, Senior Counsel at the ACLU of the District of Columbia, which is co-counsel in the case. "Whether they involve videos showing abuse of detainees, or White House documents showing presidential misconduct, keeping proper records is essential to enforce the rule of law."
The new lawsuit seeks to keep ICE accountable amidst an ambiguous moment at Glades as the current contract between ICE and Glades County ends on April 30, 2022. The agency will decide between terminating its contract with Glades County, which would likely cause the center to close, or renewing a contract to keep the detention center open.