Judge calls immigration officials’ decision ‘beyond cruel’
By Henry Weinstein, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
March 13, 2008
In a stinging ruling, a Los Angeles federal judge said immigration officials’ alleged decision to withhold a critical medical test and other treatment from a detainee who later died of cancer was “beyond cruel and unusual” punishment.
The decision from U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson allows the family of Francisco Castaneda to seek financial damages from the government.
Castaneda, who suffered from penile cancer, died Feb. 16. Before his release from custody last year, the government had refused for 11 months to authorize a biopsy for a growing lesion, even though voluminous government records showed that several doctors said the test was urgently needed, given Castaneda’s condition and a family history of cancer, Pregerson said.
But rather than test and treat Castaneda, government officials told him to be patient and prescribed antihistamines, ibuprofen and extra boxer shorts, the judge wrote in a decision released late Tuesday. In summary, the judge wrote, the care provided to Castaneda “can be characterized by one word: nothing.”
Pregerson blasted public health officials’ “attempt to sidestep responsibility for what appears to be . . . one of the most, if not the most, egregious” violations of the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment that “the court has ever encountered.”
At this stage of the proceedings, “the only question is whether” the plaintiffs’ allegations, if true, show that government officials “were deliberately indifferent to his condition. The court finds that they do,” Pregerson said.
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