Colorado senators, congressman push for report on death at Aurora facility after ICE misses deadline

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The Aurora ICE Processing Center in Aurora, April 21, 2023.

Members of Colorado’s congressional delegation are calling on ICE to release findings from an investigation into the death of Melvin Ariel Calero Mendoza at an Aurora detention center in 2022. 

Democratic Representative Jason Crow, along with Senators John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet, sent a joint letter to the acting director of ICE this week calling on the agency to release a Detainee Death Review Report completed by the ICE Office of Professional Responsibility after an independent review of Calero Mendoza’s death.

“It is our understanding that stakeholders within our constituency have submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records associated with Mr. Calero Mendoza and that this request is several months past its estimated completion date,” the letter reads. “We encourage you to cooperate with our community members pursuing ICE OPR’s Detainee Death Review Report.”

Community groups and media organizations, including CPR News, have filed records requests to obtain the report. However, ICE has already missed the legal deadline for issuing the public documents. Immigrant advocacy groups say they will sue the agency if it fails to release the findings.

According to Crow, the investigation was supposed to include video surveillance, medical and detention files and interviews with facility staff. It should have been completed by April 11, 2023. 

“We believe oversight and transparency of facilities operated by or for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is crucially important and we encourage you to remit this document as expeditiously as time allows,” said the Democratic delegation’s letter. 

Crow called for an investigation into Calero Mendoza’s death last year. He has also called for an end to federal contracts with for-profit detention centers like the one run by the GEO Group in Aurora.

A 911 call obtained by NPR last month revealed a string of staff errors that delayed medical care for Calero Mendoza. Those issues included the caller, an unidentified employee, not knowing the correct address of the ICE detention center, lacking directions on how EMTs could enter the facility and being unable to describe Calero Mendoza’s condition. 

An NPR investigation into deaths inside ICE detention centers last month highlighted another death at the Aurora detention center in 2017. In that case, 64-year-old Kmayar Samimi was never examined by physicians or nurses while suffering withdrawal symptoms from methadone, which he’d been prescribed for decades. 

Through a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act, NPR obtained more than 1,600 pages of records from the Department of Homeland Security's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. They describe “barbaric” uses of force and “negligent” medical care. 

Calero Mendoza, who was from Nicaragua, died from a soccer injury in his foot that went untreated for more than a month, according to an autopsy. The injury created a blood clot, which later caused a fatal embolism.