More Trouble at T. Don Hutto: Detainee alleges sexual abuse by guard


[Nov. 17, 2017] When members of Grassroots Leader­ship met with undocumented detainee Laura Monterrosa on one of their recent routine visits to the T. Don Hutto Resi­den­tial Center in Taylor to monitor human rights abuses, she initially stayed silent about the alleged abuse she was facing. She told me through an interpreter on Tuesday that a pending asylum case, and memories of those in her shoes who faced retaliation for speaking out – in the form of deportation threats or transfers to another facility – kept the 23-year-old detainee from sharing her story.

But then an anonymous caller informed CoreCivic, the private prison company that operates the all-women detention facility, that Monterrosa was being sexually assaulted by a guard. She then broke her silence and confided to Grassroots in early Nov­em­ber, penning a letter that describes a pattern of abuse since June. "She harassed me, telling me threatening words and forcing me to have unwanted relations with her," Monterrosa wrote of the female guard. "She looked for or took advantage of every moment she could to touch my breasts or my legs. … I got tired of all of this and asked her 'no more,' because I was very scared, but she didn't care and I told her that I was going to talk to the captain, but she laughed with a sarcastic laugh and said 'Do you think that he will believe you? Please, they never will.'"

When prison officials got the anonymous call, they "threatened her with solitary confinement in medical isolation," a term CoreCivic uses instead of solitary confinement, said Sofia Casini with Grassroots Leadership. (CoreCivic, founded in part by T. Don Hutto himself, has a tendency to employ terms that soften their meaning – including its own name, adopted last year as part of a rebranding effort from the more direct Corrections Corporation of Amer­i­ca.) Casini said she's seen that room before. "It's tiny and very cold at a painful level. It's designed to break the women down."

Eventually, Monterrosa's attorney coordinated an investigation with two Williamson County sheriff's deputies and officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforce­ment, but Casini says ICE's presence felt intimidating: "The ICE side was extremely victim-blaming and questioned her testimony as either lying or consensual to undermine her credibility." Monterrosa provided multiple witnesses, including a former Hutto guard, but the perpetrator remains employed, according to Grassroots. CoreCivic, which operates Hutto for ICE, directed inquiries to the federal immigration agency, but regional spokesperson Nina Pruneda reminded that the agency does not comment on pending investigations. "The agency is committed to ensuring all individuals in our custody are treated in a safe, secure, and humane manner," she added. "Accusations of alleged unlawful conduct are investigated thoroughly and appropriate action is taken to ensure the safety and security of those involved and the others in ICE custody."

Grassroots Leadership is currently calling on Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody to launch a transparent investigation into the alleged abuses. "Anything less than a full investigation is really concerning," said Casini. WCSO spokesperson Patricia Gutierrez declined to comment on the potential of that investigation.

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