An advocacy group says it was denied access to a Panamanian national the day before he committed suicide in his solitary confinement cell in an immigration detention center in Southwest Georgia.
Officials at El Refugio say Jean Carlos Jimenez-Joseph’s mother saw him at Stewart Detention Center Saturday and was concerned about his mental health, so she had asked them to visit her son. But El Refugio says one of its volunteers was turned away at the privately-run facility Sunday.
Jimenez, 27, was found unresponsive — with a sheet around his neck — in his isolation cell at 12:45 a.m. Monday. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation confirmed Friday that its autopsy revealed he committed suicide by hanging. He had been kept in isolation for 19 days before he died.
“We are gravely concerned that Jean Carlos may not have received the mental health services he required while detained,” said Marie Marquart, chairwoman of El Refugio, which aids Stewart detainees and shelters their visiting relatives in Lumpkin. “His solitary confinement may have exacerbated his isolation and further impacted any mental health issues.”
ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said detainees may still receive visitors while they are being isolated. But he also referred to his agency’s standards for solitary confinement, highlighting a section that says immigration detention centers “may restrict or disallow visits for a detainee who violates visiting rules or whose behavior indicates that he/she may be a threat to the security or good order of the visiting room.”
Cox rereferred additional questions to the Nashville-based private company that manages Stewart, CoreCivic, previously known as Corrections Corp. of America. But CoreCivic spokesman Jonathan Burns referred questions back to ICE, saying that federal agency is responsible for medical and mental health services at Stewart.
“CoreCivic is fully cooperating with ICE as it conducts an investigation into this incident,” Burns said.
Cox added ICE has medical practices in place for detainees who appear suicidal.
“He was in disciplinary segregation,” Cox said. “Had he expressed any kind of suicidal ideation, there would have been a specific medical reaction to that.”
ICE isolated Jimenez, according to the GBI, after he was observed jumping off a second floor walkway at Stewart. His isolation was extended for three days after he exposed himself to a nurse there, the GBI said. He was isolated one other time in April for five days for fighting with another detainee, Cox said.
ICE said it took custody of Jimenez on March 2 in Wake County, N.C., following his felony conviction for motor vehicle larceny. He was in the middle of deportation proceedings at the time of his death. He has also faced assault and drug-related charges in Raleigh, N.C, according to Raleigh/Wake City-County Bureau of Identification records.
In a prepared statement released Friday, his sister, Karina Kelly-Jimenez, said she was shocked by his death.
“Jean had a beautiful spirit,” she said, adding he was “full of life and quick to love and help anyone.”
“We patiently await the outcome of the ongoing investigation into how Jean died, and why,” she added. “We ask those conducting this investigation for nothing more than honesty, transparency, and a prompt resolution.”
A GoFundMe online account has been created to raise money for his family’s funeral and travel expenses as well as efforts to “hold Stewart Detention Center accountable.”
Jimenez was a high school wrestler and a talented drummer who was charming, bilingual and fiercely loyal to his friends, said Dalton Gomez, who previously lived with him in Kansas City and performed in a band with him.
“He should of been a star, his potential was limitless,” Gomez said, “but our system is not.”