Family of Iranian Man Who Died in ICE Detention Sues GEO Group for Wrongful Death: 'He Was Fine…Two Weeks Later, He Was Dead'

The family of a man who died while in the custody of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is suing for "wrongful death" the detention firm and the medical professional responsible for overseeing his care.

Kamyar Samimi, a 64-year-old Iranian national who had come to the U.S. as a student in 1976 and became a legal permanent resident just two years later, was taken into ICE custody on November 17, 2017, when agents arrested him at his home in Thornton, Colorado.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, which filed a lawsuit on Tuesday on behalf of Samimi's family, the 64-year-old's arrest had been based on a past conviction for "possession of a small amount of a controlled substance twelve years earlier."

"The immigration charge asserted that Mr. Samimi's twelve-year-old conviction rendered him removeable from the country," the ACLU's lawsuit states.

Just two weeks after entering ICE's Aurora Contract Detention Facility, a for-profit center operated by the GEO Group, Samimi, a father of three, was dead.

At the time of his arrest, the father of three had been legally taking methadone for 20 years and, the lawsuit claims, it was a decision to abruptly take him off the drug that led to "fatal consequences."

"On the first day of Mr. Samimi's detention, GEO's only full-time physician, following GEO policy, ordered that Mr. Samimi be cut off from the methadone he'd been legally taking for 20 years," said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein in a statement published online.

That decision, Silverstein said, forced Samimi to endure the "all-consumingly painful, debilitating and life-threatening torture of opioid withdrawal.

"That order was medically unjustifiable, and it precipitated the ugly and ultimately fatal consequences that ensued," he said.

In addition to accusing GEO Group and Dr. Jeffrey Elam Peterson of "negligence" and "medical malpractice" resulting in "wrongful death," the ACLU's lawsuit also accuses the detention giant and medical practitioner of discriminating against Samimi for having a disability of opioid use disorder, a claim made under the Rehabilitation Act.

"In Mr. Samimi's case, GEO cut him off from his prescribed methadone and its medical staff was woefully unprepared to deal with Mr. Samimi's deteriorating condition," ACLU Colorado said in a press release on the lawsuit.

GEO Group staff, the ACLU group said, "erroneously wrote him off as a 'drug-seeker,' missed doses of medication and failed to respond adequately or humanely as his condition became critical."

The lawsuit alleges that "Samimi's treatment was indicative of the general state of affairs with respect to medical treatment at ACDF."

"GEO had vacancies in key medical personnel for over six months," it said. Meanwhile, "officers complained to their lieutenant on a nightly basis about the nurses' failure to respond to detainees' medical needs."

"For his part, Dr. Peterson was always hard to reach by phone, although he was
supposed to be on call 24/7. The morning of Mr. Samimi's death, he failed to return two calls and instead was hanging Christmas lights," the lawsuit claims.

In a statement sent to Newsweek the GEO Group said it "strongly rejects" the allegations made in ACLU Colorado's lawsuit.

"The Processing Centers we manage on behalf of ICE are top-rated by independent accreditation entities, including the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, and provide high-quality residential care," the company said. "We are committed to providing a safe and secure environment for everyone in our care."

However, ACLU Colorado has maintained that when it came to providing a "safe and secure environment" for Samimi, the dentention company failed to fulfill that promise.

Following Samimi's death, the ACLU of Colorado filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking documents that might shed light on what caused the 64-year-old's death.

After receiving just five pages in response to the request, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on April 9, 2019.

After the lawsuit was launched, ICE released its findings in a probe into Samimi's death, with the internal review finding "numerous violations of ICE standards," according to ACLU Colorado.

Despite that, however, ICE and GEO agreed to increase the capacity of the Aurora detention facility from 1,000 to 1,500, with only one full-time physician attending to its growing number of detainees.

ICE has not immediately responded to a request for comment from Newsweek.

In a statement provided by ACLU Colorado, Neda Samimi-Gomez, one of Samimi's daughters, said she and her family members have been left devastated by the 64-year-old's death.

"It's devastating," she said. "We will never have more memories with my dad. When I have a family, my own child will never have memories of their grandfather."

"We never want this to happen to another family, which is why it's been so important to have the ACLU take our father's case," Samimi-Gomez said. "We want everyone to know what happened so that it never happens again."

ICE detention
A bunk bed inside a cell is seen at the Caroline Detention Facility in Bowling Green, Virginia, on August 13, 2018. The ACLU of Colorado is suing GEO Group and a medical practitioner over the death of a father in ICE custody. SAUL LOEB/AFP