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Problems Persist at Privately-Operated Rhode Island Jail

On June 30, 2009, a former employee at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility, a privately-operated jail near Providence, Rhode Island, pleaded guilty to lying to federal officials about sexual misconduct involving an immigration detainee, marking yet another embarrassing problem in a string of scandals to hit the facility.

Glenn Rivera-Barnes, formerly a medical technician at the 746-bed Wyatt jail, admitted he had lied to federal investi-gators, telling them that the male detainee had sexually assaulted him when in fact he had initiated the unwanted sexual encounter. Rivera-Barnes’ involvement in the incident was confirmed by DNA evidence.

Rivera-Barnes had been fired in January 2009; he was previously employed by Cornell Companies, which operated the Wyatt facility until 2007. It is now run by the Central Falls Detention Facility Corporation. Rivera-Barnes was sentenced on December 21, 2009 to two years’ probation plus 480 hours of community service and participation in a mental health program. See: United States v. Rivera-Barnes, U.S.D.C. (D. RI), Case No. 1:09-cr-00106-S-LDA.

On February 11, 2010, Wyatt’s warden, Wayne T. Salisbury, Jr., and Chief Financial Officer, Tammy L. Novo, were fired following an eight-week audit of the facility’s operations. They had been suspended in December 2009. The 55-page audit report found, among other deficiencies, that the jail’s staff was operating with little oversight and accountability.

The audit further found that Novo had been ordered to report directly to Warden Salisbury instead of the Board of Di-rectors, without the Board’s knowledge, and that she had intentionally delayed responses to a financial report that could have demonstrated the facility was not able to make its debt payments.

Two days before Salisbury and Novo were terminated, Wyatt’s public relations spokesman, Bill Fischer, and his company, True North Communications, resigned. “This situation has certainly created an unhealthy work environment and I have decided to end it on my terms,” Fischer stated.

Previously, in April 2009, the Board of Directors had fired Wyatt’s executive director, Anthony Ventetuolo, Jr., and his management firm, Avcorr Management LLC. Also, on April 27, 2009, the Chairman of the Central Falls Detention Facility Corporation, Daniel Cooney, was terminated after he equated the Wyatt jail to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. [See: PLN, July 2009, p.50].

“Comparing the facility to one of our nation’s most controversial detention centers clearly demonstrates he does not share my goal to restore public confidence in the operations of the Wyatt Detention Facility,” said Central Falls Mayor Charles Moreau.

The firings were a setback for the jail, which was already under considerable scrutiny related to the abuse and death of a prisoner. The widow of Hiu Lui Ng, a 34-year-old Chinese computer engineer held at the facility on an immigration violation, is pursuing a federal lawsuit that alleges Wyatt officials abused her husband, accused him of faking an illness and denied him medical care.

Ng’s attorneys filed a habeas petition to get him adequate medical treatment but he died on August 8, 2008, just five days after being seen by a doctor. He had advanced, undiagnosed liver cancer and a fractured spine.

The lawsuit accuses Wyatt guards of denying Ng the use of a wheelchair, forcibly moving him while he was in excruciating pain to meet with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, throwing him on the floor and dragging him by his arms and legs, and claiming he was only pretending to be sick. Ng was detained at Wyatt because he had overstayed his visa.
“Hiu Lui Ng was tortured, brutalized, and deprived of the dignity every human being deserves by officials at the Wyatt Detention Center,” his family said.

On June 14, 2010, the district court denied a motion by ICE to dismiss the lawsuit for lack of jurisdiction. Ng’s family is represented by Rhode Island ACLU cooperating attorney Jack McConnell, with the law firm of Motley Rice LLC. See: Qu v. Central Falls Detention Facility Corp., U.S.D.C. (D. RI), Case No. 1:09-cv-00053-S-DLM.

While the federal suit over Ng’s death remains pending, immigration officials have already acknowledged he was mistreated, based on an ICE investigation that found Ng was denied medical care, subjected to excessive force and denied access to counsel. Wyatt’s contract to hold ICE prisoners was terminated in December 2008 and the remaining 153 immigration detainees at the facility were removed. The loss of the ICE contract reportedly cost the jail $100,000 a week in lost revenue, and threatened its ability to finance its debt.

“This administration takes any allegation of inadequate medical care or ill treatment seriously and will not accept or tolerate any willful misconduct,” said ICE spokesman Brian P. Hale.
Unfortunately, ICE has failed to acknowledge its own responsibility for keeping Ng and other immigration detainees safe.

After Salisbury and Novo were fired in February 2010, the Chairman of Wyatt’s Board of Directors issued a statement that said the Board would “continue to purge any previous culture of wrongdoing at Wyatt that has been carried over in any shape or manner from the past ... and has resulted in the difficult financial situation that exists today.”

Preventing the facility’s guards from sexually abusing prisoners, denying them medical care and wheelchairs, dragging them by their arms and legs, and accusing them of faking a fatal illness might help, too. The U.S. Marshals Service continues to house federal detainees at the Wyatt facility.

Sources: Nashua Telegraph, New York Times, Associated Press, Providence Journal,,

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Related legal cases

Qu v. Central Falls Detention Facility Corp.

United States v. Rivera-Barnes