A new autopsy report is stating that Honduran refugee Roxsana Hernandez died from complications with her HIV diagnosis, and not from physical abuse by ICE agents.
The New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator released its findings Tuesday.
Dr. Kurt Nolte, Chief Medical Investigator, classified the cause of death as multicentric Castleman disease due to her HIV-positive status. He said the rare disease was connected with a Herpes infection.
“This case has taken almost a year to close because the autopsy was complex and required additional testing and consultation. We wanted to ensure we answered all the questions we could about Ms. Hernandez’s death,” Nolte said in a statement upon the reports release.
"We know that releasing her autopsy report will bring a flood of emotions for them," he continued. "We have done our best to ensure her cause and manner of death were fully investigated to hopefully provide some level of closure.”
Hernandez, a refugee who traveled to the United States seeking asylum, was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement at Cibola County Correctional Facility in New Mexico, but was quickly hospitalized. She died at Loveland Medical Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The Transgender Law Center slammed the findings, which conflict with an independent autopsy conducted by the group almost a year ago.
“The NM OMI dragged their feet in releasing Roxsana’s autopsy report only to let ICE run the show and use the report to do their dirty work of shirking responsibility for her care,” said Lynly Egyes, director of litigation for TLC. “It’s absolutely appalling that they presented their findings to ICE prior to offering those findings to Roxsana’s family’s legal representatives.
TLC’s autopsy found Hernandez had been beaten and dehydrated. Her autopsies were consistent with being struck by a police baton while handcuffed, the report found.
“Her cause of death was dehydration and complications related to HIV,” Egyes said at the time. “Her death was entirely preventable.”
A release originally refers to the trans woman by her dead-name, a term referring to a name that a person has stopped using, and then refers to her as "Ms. Hernandez" from that point forward.
This upset advocates, as did an autopsy that seemed to blame Hernandez for her own demise.
“It’s disturbing that instead of acknowledging their role in creating the conditions that led to her death, ICE has instead focused on criminalizing Roxsana,” said Jorge Gutierrez, executive director of Familia.
“From dead-naming her in this autopsy report to not engaging with the information previously presented by Roxsana’s family’s legal team, it’s clear that the NM OMI report offers an incomplete and convenient for ICE narrative that does not offer the final word on who is responsible for Roxsana’s death.”
New Mexico medical investigators do list extensive damage to Hernadez’s body in their new findings.
But the report describes extensive fractures in her ribs and sternum as consistent with someone who suffered at least 10 cardiac arrest events and went through resuscitation attempts. Medical officials say her low blood platelet count at the time of her death amplified bleeding, which led to “physically forceful CPR.”
However, Egys said there's plenty of reason to doubt the new findings, released nearly a year after Hernandez's death.
“To frame this as a comprehensive investigation into Roxsana’s death is completely disingenuous,” adds Andrew Free. “We made weekly calls to the Office of the Medical Investigator for months. If they’d truly wanted to grapple with the information detailed in the independent autopsy report or medical records we uncovered through our investigation all they had to do was ask.”
Hospital officials initially determined Hernadez died from pneumonia and complications with HIV. With an official autopsy released, the agency plans to stand its ground in disputing prior independent findings.