CCA Guard Accused of 8 Sexual Assaults

     AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – A Corrections Corporation of America prison guard sexually assaulted eight women while taking them away from a CCA prison, the women claim in court.
     Kimberly Doe et al. sued CCA, the nation’s largest private prison company; their alleged assailant, Donald Dunn, former “escort officer and resident supervisor” at CCA’s T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas; and Dunn’s then-boss, Evelyn Hernandez, in Travis County Court.
     The eight women – from Eritrea, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – seek punitive damages for sexual assault, false imprisonment, gross negligence and negligent supervision.
     All eight say they fled horrid conditions in their home country to seek asylum in the United States, where they were arrested and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement sent them to the T. Don Hutto prison.
     Corrections Corporation of America, founded in 1983, was the first private prison company the U.S. immigration service hired to imprison refugees. CCA claims on its website that it “benefit[s] America by protecting public safety, employing the best people in solid careers, preparing inmates for reentry, giving back to communities, and bringing innovative security to government corrections – all while consistently saving hardworking taxpayers’ dollars.”
     The Department of Homeland Security changed its immigration policy in 2005 from one of “catching and releasing” to “catching and detaining,” according to the complaint. The number of immigrant detainees rose from 200,000 in 2005 to 400,000 in 2010, with about 10 percent of them women.
     Most immigration detainees have committed no crime other than entering the country without inspection.
     Widespread sexual abuse of immigration detainees has been documented by private attorneys, at the CCA prison in Laredo, and by groups such as the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, which reported on abuses at the Krome Avenue prison in Miami.
     A guard at the Hutto prison was accused in May 2007 of sexually assaulting a woman there “while her son was sleeping in his crib inside the cell.”
     In December 2007, ICE announced a zero-tolerance policy toward sexual assault in immigration prisons, whether run by the government or private contractors.
     In 2008, Homeland Security found the Hutto facility to be noncompliant with ICE standards for sexual abuse. By 2009 ICE stopped detaining families at the Hutto facility and used it exclusively to house immigrant women.
     The plaintiffs in the new case, filed April 9, say Dunn sexually assaulted them as he took them from the Hutto prison to an airport or bus station.
     Sarah Doe, a 24-year-old native of Eritrea, says she fled to the United States after being repeatedly raped and beaten by a military commander. She was released from the Hutto prison on March 20, 2010. At 3:58 a.m. she met Dunn, who was supposed to take her to the airport.
     Dunn locked her into a cage-like area in the back of his van and they departed, stopping 10 miles later at a Conoco gas station. There, Dunn told Sarah to get out of the van and move against the wall of the station. He groped her repeatedly “for an extended period of time, touching all over her body, including her breasts, crotch area, and buttocks,” Doe says in the complaint. He put her back in the van and took her to the airport. She says she never reported it because she was terrified.
     Kimberly Doe, 38, fled Brazil in March 2010 because drug-using husband repeatedly raped and beat her. Her asylum claim was approved and she was released from the Hutto prison on April 15, 2010. Dunn, who picked her up at 4:35 a.m., was her only “escort.”
     Again, he stopped at the Conoco station, where he groped Kimberly “for an extended period of time … including her crotch area and buttocks,” Kimberly says in the complaint.
     Back in the van, Dunn fondled himself as he drove and tried to touch her as well, Kimberly says. She says he stopped the van a second time some distance off the road and assaulted her again.
     “Kimberly feared the worst” and believed that “Dunn would rape and kill her,” she says in the complaint. She says she felt “horribly afraid and depressed” and “remains to this day deeply afraid that defendant Donald Dunn will find her and retaliate against her for acknowledging he assaulted her.”
     The six other women describe similar assaults: at the Conoco station, off the side of the road, and in one instance in his own home.
     The women say Dunn is known to have assaulted at least two other detainees. He was eventually stopped because plaintiff Raquel Doe reported her assault to police, who investigated.
     Dunn was arrested by the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department in August 2010 and was charged with multiple counts of official oppression and unlawful restraint.
     He admitted that he committed the assaults for “his own self-gratification and not for any legitimate purpose,” the complaint states.
     He pleaded guilty to the Williamson County charges in November 2010 and was sentenced to a year in jail plus probation.
     The federal government filed civil rights charges against Dunn for four of the assaults not addressed by the Williamson County case. This included Raquel Roe and Emily Roe, as well as two victims who are not plaintiffs in the Travis County complaint.
     Dunn pleaded guilty to two of the four federal charges and was sentenced in November 2011, according to the complaint.
     The eight plaintiffs claim that CCA and its administrator Hernandez violated their agreement with Williamson County as well as ICE policy: that “during all transportation activities, at least one (1) transportation officer shall be of the same sex as the residents being transported.”
     CCA and Hernandez also flouted policies requiring transport staff to give the “name of the person who approved the escort” and the “number of the facility-issued cellular telephone,” the complaint states. Transport staff are supposed “to maintain periodic communication with Central Control at least every (60) minutes … by cellular phone and radio” and report odometer readings for each call. But transport logs do not show compliance with such policies, the women say.
     They also claim that “no officer reviewed or commented on the log entries, and no supervisor, dispatch agent, or other staff member engaged in and logged any sort of official communications with the escorting officer during the transports themselves.”
     These failures “enhanced the ability” of escort officers like Dunn to commit assaults, the women say.
     In May 2010, Hernandez was put on administrative leave; she was demoted on July 12 that year and then fired for failing to protect detainees from assault, according to the complaint.
     Also in May, ICE reprimanded CCA and put it on probation for the assaults. ICE also threatened to terminate all contracts it had with CCA.
     CCA responded to ICE by promising to discipline any staff members who violated the transport policy.
     But “despite the fact that at least 22 officers had, in fact, violated this policy between October 19, 2009 and May 7, 2011 … CCA did not pursue a single disciplinary action of any kind against any of these officers,” the women say in the complaint.
     Neither CCA nor ICE responded to requests for comment.
     The women’s lead counsel is Mark Whitburn with Whitburn & Pevsner, of Arlington.

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