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.