Latest ICE Detainee Death Exploited by Anti-Detention Crowd Raises Questions for ICE and Activists

By Jon Feere on April 22, 2024

The anti-ICE crowd has found its latest detainee death to dramatize and use as an excuse for ending detention, and this time it’s a mentally ill, convicted murderer who overstayed a tourist visa nearly 24 years ago. Though the anti-detention activists are vocal, they fail to offer any serious recommendations about how ICE could or should have handled the situation differently. As usual, media have parroted activist talking points without asking questions that might offer better insight into exactly what transpired. Some of those questions are presented here.

The full ICE detainee death report is available online, but a summary and additional questions are as follows. Detainee Charles Leo Daniel, citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, entered the United States in Miami in 2000 and overstayed a tourist visa. The first questions: Why wasn’t he prevented from entry as a potential visa overstayer in the first place? Why wasn’t he immediately deported after overstaying, and what resources are needed to make quick removals of visa overstayers a reality? Undoubtedly this would require better screening upfront, including by the State Department's consular officers, and increased resources for ICE in order to remove visa overstayers, who make up a large portion of the nation’s illegal-alien population. But the anti-ICE crowd complaining about the death of Daniel is not asking for any of this, despite the fact that it might have prevented the death of Daniel’s victim and, in the logic of the anti-ICE activists, Daniel’s own death in an ICE detention facility.

By 2003, Daniel was in Seattle and murdered reggae musician Ras Bongo, stabbing him to death with a 14-inch kitchen knife. Media then called Daniel a "transient" instead of an "illegal alien", perhaps because media never thought to inquire about who this transient was, or perhaps because DHS wasn’t being proactive in defending the importance of immigration enforcement. Daniel had lived for a bit in Arizona and California before making his way to Seattle, according to media reports. Daniel’s victim was described as “a Rastafarian and a loving soul who was a ubiquitous presence in Seattle's small Jamaican-music scene”. The anti-detention activists embracing next to their memorial for Daniel don’t seem to have shed any tears for the murdered musician.

In March 2020, amid the outbreak of the pandemic, Daniel was transferred to ICE custody at the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma, after having served most of his prison sentence. Removal to his home country was likely complicated by the pandemic, but ICE was undoubtedly arranging for travel documents. Media and activists troubled by Daniel’s long detention that lasted from his book-in to his recent death should be asking the following question: What efforts was ICE making for removal, and was Trinidad and Tobago being cooperative? For many reasons, it’s ideal for detention to be as short-term as possible, and illegal aliens should be quickly returned home.

U.S. taxpayers spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on detainee health care, and Daniel was a beneficiary, though he refused much of recommended treatment. Upon entry to the detention facility, Daniel received a full medical screening and was diagnosed with stage two hypertension. He was on an antidepressant, had elevated blood pressure, and leg swelling, but refused any medications or blood tests.

Between April 2020 and October 2023, medical staff monitored Daniel’s blood pressure when he consented, ordered medications to treat his hypertension, ordered laboratory testing, scheduled chronic care follow-up appointments, and educated him on a healthy lifestyle and the risks of untreated hypertension. However, Daniel repeatedly refused medical services and medication in over 60 medical consent refusal forms. Medical staff ordered Daniel compression stockings for edema in both legs, but he refused to wear them. Here’s a question for the anti-ICE, anti-detention crowd: What would they have ICE do when a criminal alien refuses medical treatment? Should it be forced upon him? This is a serious question that media reporting on detainee deaths like this should ask of the anti-ICE activists they quote.

Daniel reported hearing voices with visual hallucinations, and had delusions of “being electronically harassed, and people putting spirits on him” according to ICE’s detainee death report. He also had a history of marijuana, cocaine, and alcohol use. A psychiatrist evaluated Daniel, documented a history of delusional disorder, and treated him with risperidone (an antipsychotic medicine) for a short period of time, which Daniel quickly refused. A psychiatrist evaluated Daniel monthly and in September 2021, a psychiatrist canceled future appointments due to his repeated medication refusals. Another question for the anti-detention crowd: What would they prefer happens in this situation? Are they demanding that a mentally ill, convicted murderer, illegal alien be released back into the community?

A central complaint being made by activists is that Daniel was in segregation housing for most of his time in ICE detention. It turns out that Daniel was the one who requested it, and medical and behavioral health staff continued to closely monitor him there. Another question for the anti-detention crowd that the media didn’t ask: Do they believe that ICE should refuse a detainee’s request for segregation housing? Do they believe a mentally unsound individual should not be separated from other detainees? What about the safety of other detainees? It may be that Daniel was rational enough to understand that he was a threat to other detainees and considered this to be a way to protect others.

An advanced practice provider gave Daniel an exam and ordered an ultrasound of the neck (result: presumptive thyroglossal duct cyst) and left leg (negative for blood clots), a computed tomography scan of the neck (result: large neck cystic lesion), chronic care labs (all normal except elevated kidney enzymes and prostate antigen), ear drops, and compression stockings, and noted Daniel’s refusal for hypertension treatment. He was also given a referral to an ENT, but refused consultation.

A behavioral health provider completed daily evaluations for Daniel in lieu of previous weekly evaluations because of his significant mental illness classification and segregated housing.

On the day of his death, March 7, 2024, “he presented as smiling, pleasant and non-distressed, [and] denied any suicidal ideations” as of 10:05 a.m. At 10:34 a.m. he was discovered laying on the ground, without a pulse or breathing, and staff immediately began chest compressions and called 911 for emergency medical services (EMS). The EMS was unable to resuscitate Daniel.

Some questions for ICE that media should be asking: Though removal was likely difficult during the first year of the pandemic, why did the Biden administration continue to detain Daniel for years? Was Daniel actively fighting his removal? Were immigration attorneys encouraging him to remain in detention instead of returning home? If so, who are the attorneys and do they have some responsibility here? It seems the media should seek a quote from them if immigration attorneys are involved. Did Daniel actually know that he had the opportunity to be deported home, or was he under the impression that he had to remain in detention? Does ICE need to do a better job informing detainees of their right to return to their country of origin?

Was Trinidad and Tobago cooperating with removal efforts or not? If not, has the Biden administration made sufficient efforts in obtaining travel documents from recalcitrant countries? ICE made a lot of progress in using 243(d) visa sanctions against uncooperative countries, but there doesn’t seem to be any discussion of this effort under the Biden administration. Is a lack of focus on recalcitrant countries by the Biden administration partially to blame for Daniel’s long-term detention?

These are some of the basic questions that the Seattle Times and other news outlets should be asking instead of trying to discredit ICE detention professionals and medical staff, who clearly provided a significant amount of medical care to a dangerous and ill individual who had no right to be in the United States.