On May 1, 2020, Thomas Hodgson’s actions at his Faunce Corner Road, Dartmouth facility demonstrated poor judgment and a colossal failure of leadership. He endangered his employees, injured and terrified a roomful of unarmed people, and again burdened this county with his exorbitant legal bills. Under the supervision of a competent and level-headed sheriff, Bristol County jails would not be synonymous with chaos and tragedy.
A lesser-known prequel to Hodgson’s manufactured crisis took place on March 31, 2020. That day, Hodgson contrived a practice run for the May 1 incident. Anxieties about watered-down cleaning supplies and the federal court’s involvement in releasing men due to COVID were all Hodgson needed to wargame a crisis.
Afraid of COVID infection, Hodgson’s prisoners had stopped cleaning the jail in the days preceding March 31. They demanded real soap and cleaning supplies. Incensed by the work stoppage and determined to ruin their chances for release, Hodgson suited up his corrections officers in military-style gear and called for the dogs. He ordered his officers to surround the unit with guns drawn. My client crawled to the phone and called my law office, sure he and the others would be shot. I’d heard about Hodgson’s lack of self-control, but this was a new level of outrageousness — he was forcing his employees to point weapons at a group of unarmed people posing no threat whatsoever.
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That incident — somehow — was defused. The men were relieved — and in my observation, almost enthralled — with Hodgson’s startling display of fatherly kindness when he entered the room where they cowered. Maybe they experienced some version of the bond between a captor and those he controls. But like any abusive situation, that was not the end of the story.
On May 1, the remaining men were not so fortunate. Hodgson ordered his employees to engage in disgraceful behavior. He stalked an enclosed room full of unarmed individuals. He caused them to panic by again calling in officers in military-style gear, big guns, gas masks, dogs, flash-bang grenades and rubber bullets. Then he turned the place into a war zone in a stunning example of cowardice.
Over two years later, Hodgson has yet to release the video which he insists will prove everyone wrong — that he had to charge into a unit of unarmed men because they posed such peril. Yet there is already ample evidence of what Hodgson really did. The attorney general’s report is quite accurate, even if it understates his brutality. And because of Hodgson’s actions, he has managed to become one of the only sheriffs in the country fired by ICE since Joe Arpaio.
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Those of us he calls “liars” observed rubber bullet wounds on people’s backs, and we could still see the zip-tie indentations a month and a half later. We know what Hodgson’s abuse of power looks like. And many of us have witnessed how the New Bedford jail is a chaotic place compared to other county jails.
Hodgson’s failure to improve his jails is a failure of leadership. May 1, 2020, should have been a wake-up call for anyone who hadn’t been paying attention to how their tax dollars are spent. On swag and swagger and pointless pandemonium.
Hodgson claims that asylum seekers illegally enter the country ferrying drugs. But it’s not illegal to seek asylum — not now or under any administration. There is no advance visa for that.
Is there a flow of drugs at the border? You bet there is. But most drugs enter this country at LEGAL ports of entry, not through “illegals pouring over the border,” his oft- favored line.
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I’ve been to the border, too. It’s not as he describes it. While Hodgson has nothing to do with drug or immigration policy, he wants to be perceived as a player. He often jets south, poses for photos, stares into the sunset in a ten-gallon hat. What has this done for Bristol County, Massachusetts? We’ve funded his flights, rental cars, hotels, meals, and time away from a $171,900-a-year job. Must be exhilarating to play cowboy instead of addressing the boring task of managing jails.
Hodgson says that he can’t possibly be racist because his grandkids are “half Puerto Rican” and “half Cape Verdean.” Not only is this a tired old trope (congratulations for not disowning your nonwhite grandchildren…?) but even if this wasn’t so, who points to their grandkids during an election campaign as proof of anything at all? Those of us who are parents and grandparents want to protect our kids, not exploit them for political points.
On the topic of children, Hodgson insinuates that his opponent is pro-pedophile. Yes — in case you missed it, he’s managed to stoop that low. In fact, his opponent has argued for better protections for the public, not for pedophiles. Hodgson’s misrepresentations are grossly disrespectful to crime victims. Why should Bristol County residents be subjected to ominous, horror movie-styled ads about something that never happened? Hodgson’s apparent point: if you don’t reelect me, the pedophiles are coming for your kids. Twenty-five years in office, and that’s all he’s got for a campaign ad — it’s me or those marauding pedophiles.
If only Hodgson had the integrity and character to admit mistakes and could do the hard work on issues that affect our communities. Instead, he’s spent our money grandstanding in Washington and swashbuckling along the border. If Hodgson had the courage, honesty and fortitude to be a good sheriff, this election wouldn’t matter the way that it does.
Ira Alkalay, Esq., represented detainees in both the Bristol County Jail and House of Correction and the Ash Street Jail. He was raised in New Bedford.
John Swomley, Esq., is a trial lawyer with Swomley & Tennen in Boston and a member of the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Policy Coalition.