“The most important thing to me is to make people aware that these 287(g) agreements and IGSA agreements exist in their own communities and that these agreements can be overturned at any time. You don’t have to wait until their term is up to try to get the police to stop them,” said Sherrie Andre from The FANG Collective. “And the other important thing is to bring awareness to the Bristol County House of Correction and Sheriff Thomas Hodgson and just how awful he is.”
On August 20, 2018, four people from the FANG Collective, a non-violent direct action group concerned with environmental and immigration justice, erected multiple blockades to obstruct the entrances of the Bristol County Jail and House of Correction, a facility that hosts an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility. At one entrance two 24 foot tripods were set up, that were then scaled and occupied by two demonstrators.
One of the demonstrators was Rhode Islander Sherrie Andre, then a student at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Andre was perched near the top of the tripod from which a banner was dropped that said, “End Incarceration and Deportation – Stop Family Separation – Ahora!” Nearby, a second demonstrator, Ann, was perched on a similar structure with a banner that said, “Abolish ICE Now!”
At another entrance, two other demonstrators had locked themselves to a cement filled tire painted pink with the words “Abolish ICE” on it. All four demonstrators were arrested on the scene and faced charges of trespass.
- Entrances to Bristol County Jail blocked by demonstrators over ICE connection
- Video: Officers topple FANG tripods blocking entrance to Bristol County Jail
In the one and a half years since their arrests, all four of the demonstrators have resolved their cases in court, except Andre. Two of the those arrested spent ten days in jail and a third was ordered to pay $3000 in restitution to the the cover the costs of overtime for the police officers on the scene. Andre, who rejected offers of a ten-day sentence or restitution, goes on trial starting on January 7 next year. If convicted, they face up to 30 days in jail.
The point of the protest was to call attention to the Bristol County House of Correction’s dismal treatment of prisoners and detainees in their care, call for the cancellation of the 287(g) agreements that essentially deputizes Bristol County Sheriff Office (BCSO) personnel the authority to exercise immigration-related functions usually reserved for ICE officers, and to call out the egregious and racist behaviors of Trump fanboy Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson.
I spoke with Andre about her arrest.
“A group of activists/organizers and I deployed and blockaded the exits and entrances of the Bristol County House of Correction,” said Andre. “The part I participated in was setting up and climbing a 24 to 26 foot pole tripod and I blockaded one of the entrances to the facility in front of the guard house on the access way to the facility, which is actually a public access way. We were on the public access way, which is where anyone who is going to exit or enter the facility would have to go.
“On that day we didn’t blockade the entrance for very long because the police or the Sheriff’s officers arrived pretty quickly in a vehicle and began kind of berating us and yelling at us and threatening us with violence and harm and quickly dismantled the structures we were on with no regard to our safety and pulled the structures down – bringing our bodies straight down to the concrete.
“I personally landed very hard on my tailbone. Then the police began to utilize pain compliance on me to get me to remove myself from a piece of equipment that I had used to lock myself to the poles. I tried not to move because I was always taught that if you fall from something really high you shouldn’t move, in case there’s spinal damage. But the police took that to be mean that I was being non-compliant, which is why they chose to use pain compliance to try to get me to move.
“The officers began to cut off my equipment and ropes with knives or scissors , which was kind of scary because there’s now a bunch of men standing over you – after they dropped you from the sky – with weapons and then dragged my body off to the side, to remove a piece of equipment I was locked into. Then they arrested me and other folks and brought us to jail.”
“After that experience, what was your journey through the legal process like?” I asked.
“We were jailed until pretty early in the morning the next day, maybe one in the morning,” said Andre. “We were eventually released on personal recognizance and then were arraigned in the morning. After that we continued through the court process for many court dates to see what we would be sentenced with. It was a confusing process.
“The prosecutor had offered us six months probation with community service and Judge Katie Rayburn thought that wasn’t a harsh enough sentence and believed that restitution should be part of our sentencing. The prosecution wasn’t ready to bring forth any demands or requests for restitution , so the Judge made us come back again for another sentencing.”
Rayburn had a reputation as being a very tough prosecutor as an Assistant District Attorney before becoming a judge. She was the prosecutor on the Michelle Carter case, the young woman convicted of involuntary manslaughter for sending text messages encouraging her boyfriend to kill himself.
“Because many of us were not financially able to pay restitution, I feel that the Judge thought we were being kind of like, I don’t know, insolent or whatever, if that’s the right word,” continued Andre. “But when the Judge realized that we weren’t going to be able to pay restitution, she herself recommended a harsher 10 day jail sentence and did not accept the prosecution’s suggestion for a six month probationary period with community service, community service we had all completed prior to sentencing.”
“But some people took that 10 day jail sentence deal though, right?” I asked.
“Yeah. So two of my co-defendants ended up taking the 10 day jail sentence for various reasons. One person was being charged with resisting arrest. Her resisting arrest charge had not been dropped. And so that would have carried a jail sentence of a little over two years if she had gone to trial. So she took the 10 day sentence and served it and has her own experience and stories from that.”
- Activist sentenced to ten days in jail for protesting ICE outside Bristol County Jail
- Activist sentenced to ten days for blocking entrance to Bristol County House of Correction
“Then another codefendant, he took the 10 day sentence because he is a student and wasn’t certain how long the trial process would take and how long he would have to miss school. And then another co-defendant went to take the 10 day sentence, but instead Judge Rayburn gave her all of the $3,000 in restitution, which is being fundraised for her right now.”
“Wow,” I said. “That’s, that’s just awful.”
“They’re just doing so many different things with all of us co-defendents,” agreed Andre. “It’s very strange. I think each one of us [co-defendents] has our own feelings about it, but in general, the fact that this judge was requesting a harsher punishment, a ten day a jail sentence is very strange because there was no vandalism, there was no damage done to the facility or the road or anything. All the damage was all done to the activists, the protestors, by the police.
“It’s also strange because throughout her sentencing Judge Rayburn projected a lot of her own assumptions about what happened that was not actually in the prosecution’s findings. She was very set on this idea that we blocked traffic and said that in her sentencing, when that was not even brought up in the prosecution’s finding. They never said we blocked traffic. So I think it’s very clear that the judge had her own personal feelings towards us in this process. She’s been very difficult.”
A judge ignoring the prosecutors recommendations and demanding harsher treatment reminded me of the actions of Judge Richard Sinnott when dealing with those protesters arrested during their opposition to the so-called “straight pride” parade in September.
When the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office moved to dismiss many charges prior to arraignment, recognizing that they were low level offenses that should not appear on people’s permanent criminal records, Judge Sinnott denied the motions in what the National Lawyers Guild called a gross violation of separation of powers. Sinnott went so far as to jail defense attorney Susan Church. Sinnott’s behavior was overturned by the Massachusetts Supreme Court and by the end of the month Sinnott was being investigated by the Judicial Conduct Commission.
So far Judge Rayburn has not been similarly investigated.
“So you decided to go to trial and fight these charges in court?” I asked.
“I chose to go through with this process because I think it’s a privilege to be able to engage in this process and have support, and I definitely think that having a lot of court support is really important,” said Andre. “I also feel that it’s another opportunity to draw attention to what’s happening at the Bristol County House of Correction – the 287(g) agreements and the IGSA agreements and to document what the police did to me in the public record that hopefully could be used to protect not just other protesters or activists, but also document the fact that they had no problem doing this when they were being filmed in public. What are these police being allowed to do within the facility where we can’t see them?”
An IGSA (InterGovernmental Service Agreement) allows jails to house ICE detainees and collect money from the Federal government to do so.
I asked if the trial would interfere at all with her university studies, but Andre is graduating this month.
“I’m finishing up at UMass Dartmouth – which is in Bristol County and down the street from the Bristol County House of Correction – and that’s another reason why I took action,” said Andre. “My degree is in liberal arts with a concentration in women and gender studies and philosophy. I feel that access to education shouldn’t be a privilege, but it is I have been able to access resources within the school and the community and build relationships and feel pretty committed to that space. I felt it was important for me to take action as a person who is actively utilizing those resources. Especially for New Bedford and Fall River – that population of people is full of immigrants. But there’s also the fact that folks in Providence are being targeted and brought to Massachusetts facilities.
“I think another reason I’m personally taking action is that I have a Southeast Asian background, I come from a mixed status family. If something were to happen to people I care about within my community or in my family there is a very high chance that they would have been detained in that facility. So there’s definitely a personal motivation. And the Southeast Asian population right now, among other populations, are being targeted pretty intensely for deportation.
“The most important thing to me is to make people aware that these 287(g) agreements and IGSA agreements exist in their own communities and that these agreements can be overturned at any time. You don’t have to wait until their term is up to try to get the police to stop them.
“And the other important thing is to bring awareness to the Bristol County House of Correction and Sheriff Thomas Hodgson and just how awful he is.”
Recently the ACLU of Massachusetts released emails sent from Sheriff Hodgson to Trump White House aide Stephen Miller. The emails are wormily oleaginous, feeling more like the devotion of a Renfield to Dracula than from a local sheriff to a White House advisor. In one letter, Hodgson reported his own church to Miller for handing out pro-immigration know-your-rights leaflets.
“I did this to try to motivate people to take action because you know, I’m using my body because it’s the only social capital I have,” said Andre. “I can’t vote in Massachusetts to vote Hodgson out. You know, there’s been organizations in Bristol County that have been fighting for over 20 years to hold Hodgson accountable in the ways that they think are the appropriate ways to protests. They write letters to the editor, they go to the Statehouse, they do everything – and nothing has changed.
“I think that my protest must seem like an intense escalation, but that’s only because people are ignoring the fact that community groups have been trying for a really long time to get rid of Hodgson and bring attention to how people are treated in that facility, and they’ve been ignored. So in that respect, my escalation doesn’t seem so intense.”
The FANG Collective is looking for people to support Sherrie Andre during her trial in January. See here for more details.
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