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Five Detainees Who Took Their Lives

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

During the past five years, 15 immigration detainees have committed suicide, making it the most common cause of death. Here are selected cases from medical files and other internal documents obtained by The Washington Post:

Cesar Rioz-Martinez

Died: Feb. 16, 2004 Age: 25 Mexican

Detained at Frio County Detention Center in Pearsall, Tex. According to internal records, Rioz hanged himself after being left alone in a segregation cell to which he had recently been moved. Earlier that day, he told guards "that there was a little green truck driving around inside the tank and there was some guys out to get him." One guard told another that Rioz "was going crazy."

Sebastian Mejia Vincentes

Died: Aug. 22, 2004 Age: 27 Mexican

Detained at Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Virginia. Had history of schizophrenia. Hanged himself with bedsheet. According to confidential report by Department of Homeland Security inspector general, the jail violated its rule that detainees must be checked every 30 minutes. A medical examiner told investigators that she "found it disturbing" that Mejia had been dead for "at least four to six hours before his body was found."

Sung Soo Heo

Died: Feb. 16, 2005 Age: 51 South Korean

Detained at Passaic County Jail in New Jersey. After a previous suicide attempt, he was transferred to a forensic psychiatric hospital, which returned him to the jail after concluding he did not need any psychiatric medicine and had "not demonstrated any self-destructive behavior at this facility." He hanged himself less than a week later.

Geovanny Garcia-Mejia

Died: March 18, 2006 Age: 27 Honduran

Detained at Newton County Correctional Center in Texas. He had been placed in medical unit, where he was found writing with his blood on the floor, internal records show. But he was returned to jail's general population after psychologist wrote in his chart, "No idea why he is in suicide cell." Hanged himself 12 days later, on his 27th birthday. Local sheriff concluded that guards who should have been checking him every 15 minutes "made no rounds through the night. . . . [I]t goes without saying that the incident could have been avoided."

Antonio Martinez-Rivas

Died: Oct. 4, 2006 Age: 44 Mexican

Detained at Houston Contract Detention Facility in Texas. Psychologist noted in medical chart that Martinez told him that "the radio worn by the security staff is sending messages to him," and that he was talking to himself and appeared to have hallucinations. He was scheduled to see a psychiatrist four days later. He hanged himself before the appointment and died a few days afterward.

-- Amy Goldstein and Dana Priest

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