After violence erupted in an ICE detention facility, a message left on a window said, 'HELP US'

A corrections officer examines a unit in disarray at an ICE detention center in Bristol County, Massachusetts, on May 2, 2020.

(CNN)Inside the ICE detention wing, the signs of clashes lingered hours after violence erupted and pepper spray was fired.

Mattresses had been flung onto the floor. Detainees' belongings were strewn across the room. A message that appeared to be scrawled in soap on a window simply said: "HELP US."
Weeks later, officials and lawyers representing detainees at the C. Carlos Carreiro Immigration Detention Center in Bristol County, Massachusetts, are still painting a starkly different picture of what unfolded that day. But they agree on one thing: The May 1 brawl began with a dispute over coronavirus testing.
    Multiple investigations into the incident are underway. And the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts filed a lawsuit this week calling for the Bristol County Sheriff's Office, which runs the facility under an agreement with ICE, to release surveillance videos and other records. The sheriff's office says it will do so once investigations are completed.
    Immigrant rights advocates say regardless of what investigators uncover, the clashes earlier this month at this detention facility in Massachusetts exposed a dire situation that's unfolding across the country and growing worse by the day.
    Tensions over the coronavirus have been simmering in the sprawling network of US immigrant detention centers for months. But advocates say there are signs that fears of contagion are intensifying for the more than 26,000 detainees in ICE custody and the guards charged with protecting them -- and that tensions are boiling over.
    Advocacy groups say hunger strikes have been on the rise since concerns about Covid-19 surged. So have reports of incidents involving use of force, such as the pepper spray that officers fired at the Bristol County facility on May 1.
    "It's a huge increase. ... This is a trend," said Silky Shah, executive director of the Detention Watch Network, which is pushing to end immigrant detention in the United States and regularly tracks reports of hunger strikes and other incidents at ICE facilities as part of its advocacy efforts.
    "This is what ICE detention is. And it's not unique to any one facility. In so many different places, we're seeing similar procedures and practices."

    How clashes over coronavirus testing erupted at one facility

    Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson said officials had no choice but to deploy a K-9 unit and pepper spray that day.
    A group of 25 detainees in one wing of the detention center became violent and trashed the unit, he said, after officials told 10 of them they had to report to the medical unit for coronavirus testing. At one point, Hodgson said detainees rushed toward him and one hit him with a chair.
    "They destroyed the taxpayers' facility. They were obviously poised. ... What they did to this unit, you're going to be shocked," Hodgson told reporters before giving a tour of the damage the next day. His office said more than $25,000 in damage was done before officers quelled the violence.
    Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson stands inside the sleeping area around rows of bunk beds in disarray at the C. Carlos Carreiro Immigration Detention Center on May 2, 2020.