Four women report sexual abuse at an ICE detention center

(CNN) — A new complaint alleges that a nurse sexually assaulted four women who sought medical care at a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in south Georgia.

According to the complaint, a nurse at the Stewart Detention Center, a private facility in Lumpkin, Georgia, took advantage of his position to coerce women “into giving him access to private parts of their bodies without justification or medical necessity.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and a coalition of human rights organizations filed an administrative complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Liberties on Tuesday. He accuses Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the private prison company CoreCivic of enabling the nurse’s alleged actions and failing to protect and care for those in his custody.

The complaint details allegations of four women identified by pseudonyms and described as being held at Stewart in late 2021 and early 2022.

Two of the women notified Stewart Center officials of the nurse’s alleged behavior while in detention, according to the lawsuit, which alleges the women received “blatant retaliation through aggressive and accusatory questioning and threats to prolong their detention.”

The nurse’s name is redacted in a copy of the complaint provided by the organizations to the media on Wednesday. The complaint says the nurse continues to work and care for patients at Stewart.

CoreCivic has denied the allegations.

A spokesperson for CoreCivic, the private company that runs the detention center, said in a statement sent to CNN that an internal administrative investigation into two of the women’s allegations found that one of the women’s claims was “unsubstantiated” and the of the other was “unfounded”.

The women were released from Stewart before the investigation was concluded, CoreCivic spokesman Matthew Davio said.

“We have very little information about the other two women’s claims, but we will fully investigate them if we receive that information,” he said.

The nurse was placed on administrative leave during the company’s investigation, Davio said, adding that there have been no allegations against the nurse before or since.

“As he was cleared of all charges, the nurse is still our employee,” Davio said. “We unequivocally deny any claims of threats or retaliation.”

ICE also said its administrative investigation into the initial allegations found them to be baseless.

“Two allegations remain under investigation and ICE continues to follow all appropriate protocol” for complaints and investigations, an ICE spokesman said in a statement. “Any ICE individual, employee, or contractor suspected of sexual abuse or assault is immediately removed from contact with detained persons pending completion of the investigation.”

The agency has “a zero-tolerance policy for all forms of assault, including sexual assault,” the spokesperson said, adding that facilities are required to notify ICE of all reports of sexual abuse or assault and to notify the local police from complaints involving potentially criminal behavior.

CNN has also contacted the Department of Homeland Security and the Stewart County Sheriff’s Office for a response to the allegations.

A closed door inside the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, on November 15, 2019.

What the detained women say happened

The complaint filed this week alleges that the two women who reported the nurse while in detention were repeatedly accused of lying by Stewart officials and warned that if they continued with their complaints their detention could be prolonged, they could be charged and they could face up to seven years. from prison The complaint also states that one of the complainants was denied food.

At a press conference in Atlanta on Thursday, advocates accused authorities of dismissing the women’s complaints and threatening rather than protecting them.

“How many times have we seen this? How many times … that survivors are despised, disbelieved and denigrated,” said Amílcar Valencia, executive director of the El Refugio ministry, an organization whose volunteers are in regular contact with survivors. detainees of Stewart and their families.

“To the survivors,” she added, “we as a community say today that we hear you, that we believe you, that we support you and that we thank you for your bravery.”

The complaint outlines a series of accusations against the nurse.

In one case, the male nurse allegedly put his penis in a woman’s hand during a medical exam, ordered her to drop her pants, and attempted to touch her below the waist. When that woman, identified as “Maria Doe,” attempted to report the alleged assault to center officers, the complaint alleges that she was “subjected to repeated interrogations and accusations that she was lying.”

In other cases, the complaint alleges that the same nurse inappropriately touched women who had come to him for medical help.

The Stewart Detention Center seen through its front door on November 15, 2019.

A woman identified as “Marta Doe” alleges that when she went to the medical unit for chest pain, the nurse made her remove her shirt and bra, then placed a stethoscope on her bare chest. On another occasion, when she went to the medical unit for a wrist injury, the nurse “grabbed her hand and insisted that she take off her pants.” On that occasion, after she repeatedly refused, the complaint says, the nurse “gave up and told her to calm down.”

“It has affected me a lot. I have become insecure and fearful, because the only person who could help me with my pain wanted to hurt me,” she told CNN, adding that the experience has given her nightmares. The woman, who is applying for asylum, asked to be identified by the pseudonym used in the complaint to protect her safety.

Marta told CNN that she was detained from September to November 2021 and did not report the incidents when they occurred because she feared retaliation and being forced to spend more time in detention. But she says she told her lawyer what had happened as soon as she was released from custody, and she felt it was important to join the lawsuit and share her story now, because she fears other people they may be harmed.

“There are many of us, the women who were mentally and physically abused. And he is still there,” she said. “I am afraid that he will continue to cause harm.”

Immigrant advocates call for ‘thorough investigation’

The SPLC’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative led the charge, joined by Project South, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, The shelterthe Georgia Human Rights Clinic, the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, and Owings MacNorlin LLC.

The organizations request the removal of the nurse from the Stewart Center, an investigation of the center and the records related to the cases, among other things.

Erin Argueta, the lead attorney for the initiative, said the complaint was filed with the DHS civil liberties office because that division is charged with investigating allegations of abuse in ICE detention.

“We look forward to a thorough investigation, with transparent results and follow-up,” he said.

It’s also possible that lawsuits will be filed in the future, he said.

The Stewart Detention Center is one of the largest Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers in the country and was the subject of the 2018 CNN series, “Inside America’s Hidden Border”.

The facility had housed only male detainees for years, but began holding women there in late 2020, several months after allegations of high rates of hysterectomies and medical malpractice at another Georgia detention center surfaced.

For years, immigrant rights advocates have criticized medical care at Stewart, and in the ICE detention system in general, citing inadequate staffing, delays in care and negligence.

CoreCivic’s spokesperson said Wednesday that the safety, health and well-being of detainees is a top priority.

“CoreCivic’s policy is to aggressively investigate all allegations, regardless of the source, and support the prosecution of those who are involved in incidents of sexual abuse,” Davio said.

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