HOUSTON (CN) – A community college security officer cannot escape claims that she improperly detained an immigrant student of Indian extraction who she thought “looked like a terrorist,” a federal judge ruled.
Thalia Vouchides and Janis Thompson say the ordeal occurred at the Houston Community College (HCC) campus in Katy, Texas, where they attended classes. HCC police officer Colleen Adams, who has a history of “going off on people,” approached Vouchides about a supposed complaint in February 2010, according to the complaint.
Court documents do not explain where Vouchides is from, but state that she is of Indian descent, has a green card and lives in Katy.
Adams detained Vouchides on Feb. 9, waving a piece of paper that she said “was a complaint from someone saying Ms. Vouchides made a terroristic threat,” according to the complaint. The officer later said she “received a report that Ms. Vouchides was heard discussing murders.”
Adams allegedly searched Vouchides, pinned her arms against her back and slammed her against a wall. After telling Vouchides she was being singled out “because you look like a terrorist,” Adams asked why the student spoke with an accent, the complaint states.
Vouchides said sent a text message to her friend, Thompson, for help, and showed her driver’s license and green card to Adams, per the officer’s request.
But the documents achieved little, and Adams kept the students locked in a room for an hour.
Vouchides filed a federal complaint against HCC and Adams for racial and national-origin discrimination and violations of her constitutional rights. Thompson, who is black, intervened in the case four days later.
Thompson claims that earlier the same day she had reported a theft to HCC police because gas was missing from her truck. When she found Vouchides and Adams at the security office, Adams allegedly questioned Thompson about the theft and said, “‘That doesn’t happen on this campus so that’s not true.'”
In the wake of the alleged incident, Adams followed both women and purposefully bumped into or brushed against them on campus, according to the complaint.
“On or about March 25, 2010, after Houston Community College System Cosmetology instructors used an overhead classroom projector to play for students a television news clip regarding the incident involving Officer Adams, Janis Thompson and Thalia Vouchides, Ms. Thompson was approached by several students who made spiteful comments such as ‘why don’t you go back to Africa,'” the complaint states.
Vouchides said she “was approached by students who made derogatory comments such as ‘get back on the boat’ and ‘we don’t want you here.'”
“Houston Community College administrators instructed Ms. Vouchides and Ms. Thompson not to attend classes for fear that Ms. Vouchides and Ms. Thompson could be harmed or harassed by staff members and/or other students,” the complaint states.
Vouchides and Thompson say they were left with these options: take their exams without attending class or accept a grade of incomplete for the courses they missed.
In an amended complaint, the women included copies of a letter submitted by 10 HCC police and security officers to the police chief on July 25, 2009, accusing Adams of creating a hostile work environment. “Nothing in this letter referred to any complaints against Adams for racially offensive or biased statements or conduct, or for wrongful stops or detentions,” U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal wrote.
Rosenthal dismissed the claims against HCC without leave to amend in a 25-page order.
Adams, on the other hand, will continue to face allegations of unlawful stop and detention. “The complaints include factual allegations that the hour-long detention was both unjustified and unrelated to the initial seizure,” Rosenthal wrote.
“Even assuming that Vouchides had alleged some injury from being ‘slammed’ against the wall, it is unclear that any excessive force claim could arise from the allegations that Adams ‘bumped’ and ‘brushed’ against Vouchides and Thompson,” the judge noted, nixing the excessive-force claims against Adams with leave to amend.
Rosenthal allotted 14 days for the plaintiffs to file their second amended complaints.