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Medical examiner determines cause of immigration detainee’s death in Tacoma

Northwest Detention Center blocked from expanding

In this 2018 file video, the state’s Growth Management Hearings Board upheld regulations that prevent the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma from adding immigration detention beds. The GEO Group, which runs the facility, challenged the regulations.
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In this 2018 file video, the state’s Growth Management Hearings Board upheld regulations that prevent the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma from adding immigration detention beds. The GEO Group, which runs the facility, challenged the regulations.

The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office has confirmed that the death of a Russian detainee Saturday was the result of an earlier suicide attempt, and wasn’t related to an extended hunger strike as claimed by an immigrant-rights group.

The cause of 40-year-old Mergensana Amar’s death was “anoxic encephalopathy,” or a lack of oxygen to the brain, due to hanging, investigator Ryann Sale said Monday.

The medical examiner’s investigation results backed up an account offered earlier Monday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Amar, who was being held at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, had entered the United States last December and sought asylum. He died at St. Joseph Medical Center after being removed from life support, according to an ICE statement.

Media reports initially referred to the detainee as Amar Mergensana, based on a statement from the Northwest Detention Center Resistance, which first reported the death Sunday.

Amar was taken to the hospital Nov. 15 after being found unconscious in his cell, ICE said.

The agency’s medical staff had tried to resuscitate him after calling 911. He was admitted to the intensive-care unit, where he remained on life support until Saturday, six days after his brain activity stopped.

Amar was pronounced dead at 6:05 p.m., according to the medical examiner.

Amar had been in ICE custody for almost a year, during which a court denied his asylum claim. He was scheduled for deportation this month, ICE said.

On Sunday, NWDC Resistance claimed Amar had been on an 86-day hunger strike and had been kept in solitary confinement at the detention center. The group demanded an investigation by the state into Amar’s death.

ICE disputed the claim, saying Amar started consuming food Sept. 19 and was taken off “hunger strike status” Oct. 16 after officials determined he consumed enough calories.

Amar then was placed in solitary confinement at his own request, which ICE calls “voluntary protective custody,” and remained there until the incident Nov. 15, Tanya Roman, a spokeswoman for the agency, said Monday.

ICE had agreed not to announce the end of Amar’s hunger strike because he had threatened to resume it if the agency made it public, according to the statement.

Before Nov. 15, Amar was in “good physical health” and had been monitored daily by ICE medical staff, the agency said.

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