T. Don Hutto Abuse Case Goes to FBI
Laura Monterrosa’s sexual assault saga continues
Outside the Williamson County Sheriff's Office on Monday, Dec. 4, a group of activists held signs and criticized the department for its failure to transparently investigate alleged sexual abuse at T. Don Hutto immigration detention facility in Taylor. Last month, Laura Monterrosa accused a guard employed by private, for-profit detention operators CoreCivic of sexual abuse, and since then an outpouring of other women have stepped forward. And last weekend, according to Bethany Carson at Grassroots Leadership, a whistleblower inspired by Monterrosa confirmed pervasive issues of sexual abuse at Hutto and named two guards who have abused their power to the nonprofit, which has led the charge for justice for Monterrosa. "This has been going on for a long time, since I was detained in 2009," said Sulma Franco, a former detainee who's now an organizer with the Austin Sanctuary Network. "The only thing that has changed is Laura's courage to speak up while she is still detained."
While Grassroots has pressured WilCo Sheriff Robert Chody to conduct an independent, formal investigation, it's still unclear if his office has done so. However, Grassroots claims WCSO admitted in a phone conversation last Friday that they did not pursue any investigation. Meanwhile, ICE (which contracts with CoreCivic to run Hutto) said the federal agency, with the assistance of WCSO, found the allegations made by Monterrosa "unsubstantiated," concluding the information she provided could "not be corroborated" and that the case "lacked evidence to pursue any further action." Responding to a Chronicle follow-up, ICE's regional spokesperson emailed back two words: "Contact FBI." In a turn of events, the Federal Bureau of Investigation's San Antonio field office, Austin Resident Agency Office, and the Civil Rights Division have now taken over the case as a civil rights investigation. A regional spokesperson said, "The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence and will ensure that the investigation is conducted in a fair, thorough and impartial manner."