After sex abuse claims at T. Don Hutto detention facility, advocates want answers

Advocates of women who say they were sexually assaulted by guards at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, gather outside the Williamson County Sheriff's Office. (KXAN Photo/Lauren Kravets)

GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — More than 20 people gathered with signs outside the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office Monday morning demanding answers.

Grassroots Leadership, which works to end prison profiteering and reduce reliance on detention, claims the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office has jurisdiction over the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, but failed to act after a sexual abuse allegation by detainee Laura Monterrosa. Last month, Monterrosa spoke out, saying a guard at the facility had been abusing her since June.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement along with the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office investigated Monterrosa’s case and found the claim unsubstantiated. In a statement, ICE officials said the allegation could not be corroborated and the case lacked evidence to pursue any further action. Grassroots Leadership says Williamson County should have done its own investigation.

“I remember there were many times when the guards came to us, the women, and asked for favors that are just not ok to ask from an official to the women who were detained,” explained Sulma Franco who was detained at the facility in 2009.

Franco was eventually transferred to another detention facility where she got out on bond. However, later she received a letter from Immigration and Customs Enforcement stating she needed to come back for deportation. Franco then sought sanctuary at a local church and eventually went to the San Antonio ICE office for a stay of removal.

“They have chosen to ignore the women who are speaking out about their stories,” said Claudia Muñoz, immigration program director at Grassroots Leadership.

The FBI is now investigating Monterrosa’s complaint, who is still at the detention center. The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment since the FBI now has the case.

Grassroots Leadership says their organization has requested and is in the process of requesting more documentation from ICE regarding three sexual assault cases at the facility.

“These women are saying ‘we’re tired, we’re tired of this abuse and we’re not going to take this any longer,” explains Muñoz.

KXAN reached out to CoreCivic, the private company which owns and operates the detention center. They simply forwarded the request for comment along to ICE. KXAN also reached out to the FBI but have not heard back as of Monday evening.

Guards at the Hutto Center have faced similar allegations in the past. Grassroots Leadership says in 2008, Williamson County did not prosecute a sexual assault case because no one could agree who had jurisdiction. Three years later, in a separate case, a guard, Donald Dunn, pleaded guilty to state and federal charges of molesting women while taking them to the airport. He was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison.

The T. Don Hutto facility originally held immigrant families when it opened in 2006. But that led to a federal lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union – saying the facility provided sub-standard conditions for the children. The ACLU settled the lawsuit and in 2009, federal officials decided to stop holding children in the facility. Since then, it has housed only women and has more than 500 beds. It is a “medium security” facility.

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