Guards at El Paso ICE facility accused of sexual assault, harassment
Three detainees at ICE’s El Paso Processing Center say they were sexually assaulted or harassed by guards, and their attorney is calling for an investigation.
“The terrors of detention at our local El Paso ICE facility have morphed into a new horror. Over the last several weeks, I’ve recorded deeply disturbing and troubling accounts by women and men who have become victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment by guards at the detention center,” said Linda Corchado, an attorney with Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa said the agency “has zero tolerance for any form of sexual abuse or assault against individuals in the agency’s custody and takes very seriously all allegations of employee misconduct. ICE is aware of the complaints, which will be investigated by the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) as is standard procedure.
“As public servants working for a law enforcement agency, ICE employees are held to the highest standard of professional and ethical conduct. Incidents of misconduct are treated with the utmost seriousness and investigated thoroughly. When substantiated, appropriate action is taken,” Zamarripa said.
Las Americas sent letters outlining the allegations to the El Paso District Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, and the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
“We take allegations of misconduct by public officials extremely seriously,” said Daryl Fields, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “Our office’s role is not to investigate allegations of crime, but rather to prosecute federal offenses when cases are referred to us by an investigative agency. We have accordingly forwarded the letter to the appropriate investigative agencies.”
Claudia Duran, the spokeswoman for the El Paso District Attorney’s Office, said the office forwarded the complaint to the DHS inspector general.
El Paso Matters is seeking comment from DHS, the parent agency of ICE, and the inspector general.
The alleged victims — two women and one man — are not identified in the complaints. The names of accused officers were redacted in a copy of the complaint provided to the media by Las Americas.
The first woman, called Jane Doe 1 in the complaint, said two guards on multiple occasions forcibly kissed her and touched her intimate areas. The attacks occurred between November 2019 and June 2020 in areas that were out of view of surveillance cameras, according to the complaint.
One of the guards “told her that if she behaved, he would help her be released from custody. She states that she refused his advances,” the complaint said. Both guards allegedly told her no one would believe her and there was no evidence because the incidents occurred in “a camera blind spot.”
Jane Doe 1 filed a complaint with ICE in December against the first guard but a captain “responded dismissively to her complaint,” according to the Las Americas complaint sent to investigators. She did not see the first guard for several months but he returned in March, according to the complaint, and has been “increasingly aggressive and intimidating towards Jane Doe 1. She has lived in constant panic that he may do something against her again.”
The second woman, Jane Doe 2, said she was repeatedly sexually harassed by two guards in March and April. One guard told her “she was attractive and that she should ‘fool around’ with him.” After she rebuffed his advances, the guard “reportedly stated that if she reconsidered his sexual advances, he would get her clean uniforms and give her extra soap” according to the complaint.
The guard also urged her to sign up for anxiety and depression medication. He said if she did so, she would get “additional benefits, including meeting Officer (name redacted) at night in a camera blind spot where they could engage in sexual conduct.”
A second guard made similar advances and encouraged her to get anxiety and depression medication so “they could meet at night and engage in sexual acts,” the complaint said.
Jane Doe 2 was released in April. She received messages from one of the guards after her release, via two women who were detained with her. “In those messages, Officer (name redacted) again sought to engage in sexual conduct with Jane Doe 2,” the complaint said.
The third set of incidents in the complaint involved a man who said he was a victim of sexual harassment and retaliation at the El Paso Processing Center.
The man said a guard stared at him and other men while they were showering in July. John Doe 1 told the guard not to stare at them and the guard responded by rubbing his own genitals, the complaint said.
John Doe 1 reported the incident but was told by a captain that the guard was “just doing his job,” according to the complaint.
In mid-July, John Doe 1 was showering when the guard walked in and demanded that he get out, the complaint said. “Officer (name redacted) yelled at him and pressed his face into John Doe’s face until another officer pulled Officer (name redacted) away.”
John Doe 1 said he was placed in solitary confinement for five days after complaining about the second incident. He staged a hunger strike and was moved to ICE’s Otero County Processing Center about 20 miles away, according to the complaint.