Andre Taylor and Rollin Manning were working in kitchen service last Tuesday at the Glades County Detention Center just west of Lake Okeechobee when they suddenly began to feel dizzy. At lunchtime, Taylor, Manning, and several other men – all detained and imprisoned by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – had to sit on the ground due to headaches and nausea.
Before lunch could be served, four ICE prisoners and a kitchen staff member fainted and were taken to hospital to inhale carbon monoxide. Two of the victims were later brought by air elsewhere.
“I could hardly breathe. I was nauseous, weak and had a headache. I still feel shaken and have chest pains,” says Manning New Times from the Krome Detention Center in Miami, where ICE transferred him after he was discharged from the hospital.
The carbon monoxide exposure is only the latest incident in a detention center whose closure of immigrant advocates has already called for, citing alleged human rights violations and lack of care for detainees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Duane Pottorff, senior deputy for the Glades County Sheriff’s Office, says New Times that one of the exhaust fans on a piece of kitchen equipment was not activated on Tuesday, which led to an accumulation of carbon monoxide, a colorless and odorless gas, which can cause headache, weakness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, confusion, loss of consciousness, brain damage and even death.
It tells ICE spokesman Nestor Yglesias New Times via email that the four arrested and the kitchen staff member were transported to Hendry Regional Medical Center by emergency medical services and that two of the men needed further treatment. Manning tells New Times he was taken into the air to AdventHealth Hospital in Orlando. Yglesias tells that the second prisoner was sent to St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach.
Yglesias adds that the other four detainees were returned to the ICE facilities after being treated.
Pottorff says his office is conducting an internal investigation to find out if the exhaust fan had been turned off by mechanical or human faults. The kitchen reopened shortly after the incident when Glades County Fire Rescue declared it safe. A carbon monoxide monitor has since been installed on the plant.
“It was considered safe by the firefighter, I would say before the next day. There are people currently working in the kitchen,” Pottorff said.
In a statement issued via Americans for Immigrant Justice’s legal services hotlineTaylor says he was sent back to work in the kitchen that evening. He says medical staff checked his vital features and gave him an Ibuprofen for his headache. Although medical staff have been calling him every day since the incident to check his blood pressure and vital functions, Taylor spokesmen said he has not yet spoken to an ICE officer.
Rebecca Talbot, an advocate for Immigrant Action Alliance, a local nonprofit organization that helps people detained in ICE’s custody, says the carbon monoxide incident is a sign of the neglect that Glades County Detention Center detainees are regularly exposed to.
“Glades is a facility that constantly puts people’s lives at risk,” Talbot says. “This is a horrible and sinister example, but it’s part of a pattern of carelessness with people’s lives, and another reason why this facility should be shut down immediately.”