AURORA | A Nicaraguan asylum seeker who died in Aurora’s GEO immigration detention center in October died of a pulmonary embolism after sustaining a series of injuries to his right leg while in the facility, according to records obtained by the Sentinel.
The documents raise questions about the medical treatment of people in immigration detention centers, and whether his death was preventable.
Melvin Ariel Calero-Mendoza, 39, died Oct. 13 at the University of Colorado Hospital, according to an initial news release from Immigration and Customs Enforcement that did not provide any detail about how he died.
The news sparked protests by local immigration reform activists and calls from elected officials, including Congressman Jason Crow (D-Centennial), for more transparency. The Aurora facility, which is run by the Florida-based for-profit GEO Group, Inc., has been the target of ongoing criticism and calls for it to be shut down.
An autopsy from the Adams County Coroner’s Office dated Feb. 7 said that Calero-Mendoza’s cause of death was a pulmonary embolism caused by deep vein thrombosis in his lower extremities. The manner of death was ruled an accident. Results of the autopsy were first reported by Colorado Public Radio.
“The decedent’s history of a right lower extremity injury playing football may have decreased his mobility and would be a risk factor for developing deep vein thrombosis and subsequent pulmonary emboli,” an opinion letter from a forensic pathologist in the autopsy said.
The report said that Calero-Mendoza collapsed suddenly while in the kitchen of the detention facility and was taken by EMS personnel to the hospital, where attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.
Calero-Mendoza did not have any identified chronic health problems, the report said, but had injured his leg twice in recent months while playing football. On or around Sept. 4, he injured the big toe on his right foot and on Sept. 27 he injured his right leg.
A detainee death report released by ICE contains more detail but also has inconsistencies with the autopsy.
The death report said that Calero-Mendoza was seen by a nurse on Sept. 1, Sept. 12 and Sept. 29 for pain to his right foot and right calf. The report says that Calero-Mendoza told medical staff that he had injured his foot while playing soccer — not football, as the autopsy stated — in early August and that the pain had continued to get worse.
During the three sessions, the report said that Calero-Mendoza was given acetaminophen and ibuprofen, told to stay off his foot, to apply ice and warm compresses to the affected area and to return to the clinic if his condition worsened.
Shortly before 11 a.m. on Oct. 13 Calero-Mendoza had a medical emergency and was given oxygen before being transported by EMS to the UCHealth hospital, where he was declared dead at 12:32 p.m.
“Upon arrival (time unknown) at the UCH emergency department, Mr. Mendoza experienced cardiac arrest,” the report said. “EMS personnel and hospital staff performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation and administered advanced cardiac life support medications for several minutes.”
A federal inquiry into his death from ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility is ongoing, results of which are expected to be released by April 11.
Calero-Mendoza’s family and local immigration activists have pushed for more answers, and say his death raises renewed concern about the treatment of detained immigrants and asylum seekers. He is the third person to die at the Aurora facility.
In 2017, 64-year-old Iranian immigrant Kamyar Samimi died after being detained in the facility for 15 days. The ACLU of Colorado filed a wrongful death lawsuit on his family’s behalf alleging he died as a “result of extreme mistreatment.”
A 2019 report by the ACLU said that Samimi died from cardiac arrest due to withdrawal from methadone, which he had been taking for over 25 years, and that his death was just one example in a pattern of dangerous medical neglect at the Aurora facility.
A lack of medical personnel at the detention center has been a consistent criticism by activists. The death report from ICE said that Calero-Mendoza was seen by licensed professional nurses and a registered nurse. It currently employs one medical doctor, according to a report submitted to Crow’s office.
At a vigil for Calero-Mendoza outside the detention center in November, American Friends Service Committee program director Jennifer Piper said his death was a sign that the problems are ongoing.
“We’re consistently concerned about the safety of detainees inside the facility, both their physical and their mental health,” she said.
Calero-Mendoza had been at the Aurora detention center since May 2, according to ICE. He was apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol April 13 and was at the Aurora facility awaiting completion of his removal proceedings.
On Oct. 5, a judge with the Executive Office of Immigration Review ordered Calero-Mendoza’s removal and denied all relief. A 30-day period was granted before removal to accommodate any potential appeals.
Calero-Mendoza’s sister, Adilia Calero Mendoza, is currently being represented by the immigration law and policy clinic at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. In a statement provided by the clinic, she said her family wants more answers from ICE about what happened to her brother.
“How could they have ignored pain in a swollen leg and clear signs of a blood clot for weeks, which the autopsy says ultimately killed him?” she said. “My family wants to know how the signs of a blood clot were ignored by medical professionals within the detention facility despite his leg worsening and his visits to the medical clinic. Early detection and prompt and adequate medical care could have saved my brother, an otherwise healthy and active father of two. We are so devastated.”
Give me a break. That is the same care anyone would get if they said they injured their foot playing soccer. I smell someone looking for a payday.