Detainee Abuse Claims May Stick to ICE Officers

     AUSTIN (CN) - Immigration officials may be liable for sexual abuse that allegedly took place under their watch at a detention center, a federal magistrate judge found.
     George Robertson and his successor, Jose Rosado, were contracting officer's technical representatives, or COTRs, for the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas, at a time of multiple reported sexual assaults on female detainees held there by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
     Eight women represented by the American Civil Liberties Union claim in court that escort officer and resident supervisor Donald Dunn abused them while they were in transit to the bus station or airport following their release from the Hutto detention center.
     Williamson County received federal funds and contracted with Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the owner and operator of the detention center, to house female ICE detainees at its facility.
     The ACLU argues that the intergovernmental service contract (IGSA) between ICE and the county required the presence of a female officer when Dunn transported detainees of that sex.
     Previously, the parties stipulated to dismissing claims against John Foster, the county's monitor at the detention center, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin recommended granting Williamson County summary judgment on Friday.
     "CCA's continued failure to follow the transport policy cannot be attributed to a Williamson County policy or custom," Austin wrote. "There is no evidence that any Williamson County official knew or should have known that its stated policy was not being followed. Although Foster failed to detect the fact that CCA was not complying with the transport requirements of that contract for several months, the fact is that once he did, he acted swiftly to remedy the issue. Once discovered, the county investigated the claims and was instrumental in bringing criminal charges against Dunn."
     The 29-page report further recommends dismissing some of the claims against CCA and the facility administrator, Evelyn Hernandez, as well as all claims against ICE contracting officer Jerald Neveleff.
     Unlike Neveleff who carried out his duties offsite, however, Austin determined that Robertson and Rosado would have direct knowledge as to potential violations of the transport policy.
     "As the COTRs at Hutto during the relevant time period, Robertson and Rosado worked onsite at the Hutto facility, and thus were physically present at the detention center," Austin wrote. "They were tasked, among other things, with ensuring 'that the facility conditions, policies/procedures, and handling of residents all conform[ed] to the performance standards' put forward in the IGSA. As part of this process, the COTRs participated directly in various aspects of operating the Hutto facility and had full access to detailed information concerning any aspects they were not personally involved in. Indeed, the IGSA notes that the very transport activities that gave rise to the plaintiffs' injuries were to be 'scheduled by the COTR.' In a number of cases federal courts of appeal have concluded that where an official responsible for ensuring that a policy designed to prevent sexual assault is followed does nothing to make certain the policy is being followed, then that knowing failure can be sufficient to show subjective deliberate indifference. Accordingly, the court concludes that plaintiffs' second amended complaint makes sufficient factual allegations to prevent dismissal of the claims against Robertson and Rosado."
     The parties have two weeks to file their objections to Austin's Feb. 8 report and recommendation.