Federal Government Continues To Deny Responsibility For Sexual Assaults Of Immigrant Women In Detention

Affiliate: ACLU of Texas
October 24, 2012 1:27 pm

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Four New Victims Allege Assault

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AUSTIN — The ACLU of Texas today added four new plaintiffs to a lawsuit against the United States on behalf of immigrant women who were sexually assaulted by corrections officer Donald Dunn during transport from the T. Don Hutto Residential Facility in Taylor, Texas.

The plaintiffs added to the suit (KIMBERLY DOE, SARAH DOE, EMILY ROE, BETH ROE, AND CONSTANCE ROE V. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA) today include three women from Central America and one from Africa ranging in age from 25 to 36. Each fled violence in her home country, seeking asylum in the United States, only to be assaulted by a Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) employee once she thought she’d reached safety. CCA managed the detention facility.

The lawsuit, which was initially filed on July 6, 2012 on behalf of another assaulted woman, argues that the United States was negligent in failing to ensure that at least one female guard was present when female immigrants were transported, despite provisions that required the presence of a female escort officer. It asks the federal government to take responsibility and compensate the victims.

“The federal government unquestionably knew it had a duty toward these women, all of whom were asylum seekers fleeing violence in their home countries,” said Mark Whitburn of Whitburn & Pevsner, PLLC, cooperating counsel for the ACLU of Texas.

“Given the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) resistance to complying with the Prison Rape Elimination Act — which was intended to prevent precisely the kinds of assaults that occurred here — we are disappointed, but not surprised, by the government’s refusal to take responsibility for what happened to our clients,” said Lisa Graybill, co-counsel on the case and also a cooperating attorney with the ACLU of Texas.

“The assaults against these women illustrate why it’s vital that DHS’s forthcoming regulations thoroughly and promptly implement the Prison Rape Elimination Act,” added Chris Rickerd, Policy Counsel in ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. “The Government Accountability Office is right to investigate DHS after 30 Members of Congress expressed concern. DHS must act to end the crisis of sexual abuse and assault in its immigrant detention facilities.”

“This case also shines a light on the risks of relying on for-profit prison contractors, including the Corrections Corporation of America that runs the Hutto Facility, who have an incentive to cut corners on staffing to protect their profit margin,” noted Rebecca Robertson, Legal and Policy Director for the ACLU of Texas. “Sooner or later, the federal government must recognize the human cost of its decisions and compensate the victims.”

Background on the Case

Between December, 2009 and May, 2010, federal employees reportedly stood by while women were placed into a locked van with a single male driver, despite contractual provisions that required the presence of a female escort officer. That driver, Donald Dunn, was subsequently convicted after being charged by both state and federal authorities for misconduct toward at least 8 women and is, along with Corrections Corporation of America, Williamson County, and several individual federal employees, a defendant in a separate class action suit also being litigated by the ACLU.

For a copy of the amended complaint http://www.aclutx.org/download/96/

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