Woman says she was raped at private prison on eve of deportation
HOUSTON — A Mexican woman sued prison contractor CoreCivic on Wednesday, claiming a man in street clothes beat and raped her in its Houston detention center and she gave birth to his daughter after she was deported.
After a three-month incarceration at the Houston Processing Center, Jane Doe was set to be sent back to Mexico on June 2, 2018, she says in her lawsuit filed in Houston federal court.
The Houston site is one of eight CoreCivic prisons where the company houses undocumented immigrants under contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“We are subject to multiple levels of oversight, including regular review and audit processes and onsite monitoring, and there are currently more than 500 ICE officials assigned to our eight ICE-contracted facilities,” CoreCivic says on its website.
The oversight did not help Doe on June 1, 2018, when she says she and two other detainees were moved from their regular cell, where they were typically locked up with 20 to 30 other women, to another cell in a dark isolated part of the 1,000-bed prison Doe had never seen.
Doe claims she rarely saw men at the prison because men and women are held in different wings, and female guards watch over the female prisoners.
She says three men wearing plainclothes with their faces covered entered the cell around midnight and told them to be quiet.
As his companions attacked the other women, Doe alleges, one man punched her in the face and twisted her arm. Lying on her back on the floor, she tried to twist away from him, but she stopped resisting as his blows rained down on her.
Doe says the assaults went on for an hour to 90 minutes before the men left the cell.
“The three women were left crying and terrified; they did not sleep the rest of the night,” the complaint states.
Doe is represented by Michelle Simpson Tuegel, a Dallas attorney who specializes in sexual assault cases, and Jose Sanchez of Longview, Texas.
Boasting annual revenues of more than $1 billion, CoreCivic was founded in Nashville in 1983 as Corrections Corporation of America. It renamed itself in 2016.
Allegations of abuse go back to its early days. Paralegals who provided legal services for immigrant families at the company’s detention center in Laredo, Texas in the 1980s say its guards strip-searched mothers and babies if the mother asked to see a lawyer. And they were only strip-searched if they requested a lawyer.
Doe says in her lawsuit she and the other two victims were put on a bus the next morning with a group of immigrants and transported to Laredo.
With her face bruised and swollen from the attack, she claims, she had no money for a bus ride to her home in rural Mexico. She stayed at a shelter for nine days until the shelter’s staff gathered enough money to buy her a bus ticket.
Suffering from nausea and vomiting, Doe says, she realized she was pregnant. She knows the father is the man who assaulted her at the Houston facility because she had not had sex with anyone else, according to her lawsuit.
“When plaintiff told her family what had happened to her and that she was pregnant, they were very sad and angry. Plaintiff felt very depressed and alone as a result of the trauma of the attack and subsequent pregnancy,” the complaint states.
She gave birth to a daughter in early 2019. She says she lost a lot of blood due to complications with the C-section and was hospitalized for eight days.
“This nightmare has caused me great harm and stress. I hope the United States government and the directors of these private jails prevent this violence from happening to others,” Doe said in a recorded statement.
The defendants are the United States of America, CoreCivic, four CoreCivic subsidiaries, a Florida company that provides food services for prisons, the Houston Processing Center’s Warden Robert Lacy Jr. and Assistant Warden David Price, plus the men who assaulted Doe and her cellmates, identified only as “assailants.”
Doe seeks punitive damages for claims of negligence, negligent supervision, negligent hiring and retention, premises liability, gross negligence, assault and battery, false imprisonment, infliction of emotional distress and malice.
According to the lawsuit, ICE awarded CoreCivic a $50 million contract in March to pay for the Houston Processing Center’s operations into 2030, despite its troubled recent past.
“There were at least eight reported allegations of sexual abuse at the Houston Processing Center just between March 2016 and March 2017. In 2017, there were at least eight allegations of employee-on-detainee sexual abuse, and another four allegations of detainee-on-detainee sexual abuse at the facility. And since 2003, the Houston Processing Center has reported at least nine deaths,” the complaint states.
CoreCivic spokeswoman Amanda Gilchrist declined to comment on the pending litigation but said the company is committed to the safety of all its detainees.
“We have a zero-tolerance policy for all forms of sexual abuse and sexual harassment. To ensure we are in full compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), all staff receive pre-service and in-service education and training, and all detainees receive PREA education and training beginning at initial reception and continuing while they are with us,” she said in an emailed statement.