Community members in Williamson County are demanding answers from Sheriff Robert Chody regarding alleged sexual assaults they said happened in the T. Don Hutto Detention Center, located in Taylor.
Hutto Detention Center is a multi-purpose center used to detain non-U.S. citizens who are awaiting the outcome of hearings on their immigration status.
At a press conference on Dec. 4, advocates with Grassroots Leadership, formerly detained women and community members asked Sheriff Chody to stand up to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement following the allegations from women at the center.
Laura Monterrosa first spoke out Nov. 9, according to Grassroots Leadership. She said a guard sexually abused her.
"Since the day that I talked to investigators from the Sheriff’s Office and gave them all of my evidence I have not heard anything back from them," she said in a press release from Grassroots Leadership. "I expected Williamson County to treat the investigation differently than ICE, but up until now, they’re acting the same. I am still here inside detention and the guard still works here. I need justice."
"She told us that there was a guard in there who was making sexual harassment comments to her," Grassroots Leadership spokesperson Claudia Munoz said. "He was just saying inappropriate things like we'll be together when you get out of here and he'd touch her legs and breasts when she was in the recreation center in very strategic areas where there were no cameras."
In the last week, two more women came forward with their own complaints alleging months of sexual abuse and harassment by a guard, according to Grassroots Leadership.
"After Laura came out, she inspired other women to come forward as well," Munoz said. "One woman came forward, abused by a different guard. Then another woman came forward, abused by the same guard."
Sulma Franco said she witnessed this type of abuse inside T. Don Hutto in 2009.
"Ever since then there's been that type of issue and victims have always been afraid," Franco said.
According to Grassroots Leadership, ICE officials told the public they completed the investigation and allegedly found Monterrosa's claim to be unsubstantiated. Though having local jurisdiction, the Sheriff's Office has allowed ICE to decide the course of the investigation.
ICE provided the following statement to KVUE:
The ICE Office of Professional and Responsibility (OPR) with the assistance of the Williamson County Sherriff’s Department found the allegations made by a woman from El Salvador who is currently detained at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center to be unsubstantiated. ICE and Williamson Sheriff’s Department concluded that the information provided by the detainee could not be corroborated and the case lacked evidence to pursue any further action. ICE is committed to ensuring all individuals in our custody are treated in a safe, secure and humane manner.
Patricia Gutierrez from the Public Information Office for Sheriff Chody's office told KVUE, "At this point, the FBI has taken lead and is investigating the sexual assault complaints."
"We're hoping that they'll connect some of these other cases that are coming forward and put it out there that this is a systemic issue, not just one isolated guard incident," Munoz said.
KVUE has also reached out to the FBI. A representative gave the following statement:
The San Antonio FBI Field Office, Austin Resident Agency Office and the Civil Rights Division have opened a civil rights investigation into the alleged sexual assault of a detainee by a correctional officer at T. Don Hutto Detention Center. The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence and will ensure that the investigation is conducted in a fair, thorough and impartial manner. As this is an ongoing investigation we are not able to comment further at this time.