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Civil Rights

Central Falls elected officials counter sue Wyatt bondholders under ‘Anti-SLAPP law’



In response to a lawsuit from UMB Bank, representing the Wyatt Detention Facility‘s bondholders (aka ‘The Trustees’), elected officials from Central Falls, named in the lawsuit, are countersuing.

After the Central Falls Detention Facility Corporation (CFDFC), which oversees the Wyatt, voted to stay a contract with the United States Marshall Service to house United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees, the bondholders sued. The bondholders named Central Falls Mayor James Diossa, Central Falls City Council President Maria Rivera and Central Falls City Councilors Jonathan Acosta, Hugo Figueroa, Franklin Solano, and Jessica Vega in their lawsuit, as well as members of the CFDFC board.

James Diossa

At issue were public statements from the named elected officials opposing the continuing operation of the Wyatt Detention Facility, and protests the elected officials engaged in.


In a counter suit filed on April 23, Central Falls City Solicitor Matthew Jerzyk counters that, “the Mayor and Councilmembers have spoken out against the action of the Corporation and the Warden, as is their First Amendment right to do so.”

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The counter suit continues:

“The words of Mayor Diossa and actions of the Councilmembers have had no direct impact on the Trustee, the bondholders, the United States Marshall Service contract, or the Corporation. City leaders have merely spoken out against the Corporation on a policy level and the resolutions passed by the Council are symbolic expressions of disagreement with no legal effect.

“The Trustee’s counts filed against the City, Mayor Diossa, and the Councilmembers are meant to silence the First Amendment expression of Mayor Diossa, and the Councilmembers who are speaking on a matter of public concern on behalf of the community they serve regarding an instrumentality and agency of the City.

“This is precisely the type of speech that is protected by G.L. 1956 § 9-33-1.

“The Trustee’s threat of litigation and damages of $130,000,000.00 is intended to intimidate and pressure Mayor Diossa and the Councilmembers to silence their statements against the Corporation.

“The Trustee’s suit is brought in violation of G.L. 1956 § 9-33-1 et seq., commonly known as the state’s “Anti-SLAPP” law.

“Mayor Diossa’s and the Councilmembers’ exercise of their right of free speech under the United States or Rhode Island constitutions in connection with a matter of public concern, namely the detention on the ICE asylum-seeking detainee’s held at the Wyatt, are conditionally immune from the Trustee’s civil claims.”

The lawsuit is seeking attorney fees, costs and damages.

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Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.