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More Hutto News - the Problems Continue

I'm back to the blog after a couple days of despondency over Williamson County's decision to continue it's contract with the T. Don Hutto detention center.

I was reinvigorated to see Patricia Ruland's aggressive reporting in this week's Austin Chronicle. Amongst the bombshells dropped in the article was that undocumented immigrant workers were arrested and deported for working at the facility for CCA subcontractors. (Talk about a tragic irony, jeez...)

The unauthorized workers, along with an "inappropriate sexual relationship" between a staff member and a detainee, prompted ICE to issue a stern warning to Williamson County in May. (We posted the letter here last week).

Ruland also asks tough questions about the sexual relationship, and the refusal of Williamson County to prosecute the case:

Concerning the alleged sexual assault of a detainee, the question remains: Why was the guard not arrested or prosecuted? No one at the Oct. 9 commissioners' meeting seemed to know or care. CCA Senior Vice President Damon Hininger said the county was investigating the case, but Sheriff James Wilson said he didn't know the whereabouts of the case file and that District Attorney John Bradley had decided to forgo prosecution. FBI spokesman Erik Vasys said a subsequent federal inquiry was scrapped, too, but concurred that guard-on-detainee sexual contact is a felony in Texas and generally regarded as official oppression. Neither the sheriff's office nor the FBI has jurisdiction in the case, officials from both agencies said.

Carl Rusnok, spokesman for ICE's Office of Professional Responsibility, said that the county's investigation "clearly established it was not sexual assault, after evidence and statements from the CCA employee and detainee indicated and established that the encounter was consensual." ICE believes the county should have the case file, since it served as the primary investigative agency. ICE also referred the case to the FBI for any potential federal charges. Ultimate­ly, on June 12, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Austin declined to prosecute the case. Two days later, ICE's Office of Professional Responsibility closed its case.

And from KLBJ, it appears that Williamson's County monitor of the facility will actually be a team of people dedicated from the Sheriff's department.

The Williamson County Sheriff has appointed seven people in his department to act as liaisons between the commissioners court and the T Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor. Included in the appointees are three detectives, a captain and two sergeants. Detective John Foster is one of the officers on the team. Foster says they have been asked to, "go in and examine and look and continue to look at ….how things actually work at the facility."

CCA is paying the county $5,000 a month for this monitoring. Forgive me for being skeptical (given that the sheriff's office can't find the sexual assault case file, why would I have any reason to be skeptical?), but is a $5,000 monthly budget spread out amongst seven employees really going to accomplish much oversight?

How many monthly visits will be made to the facility for that $5,000, what will the investigators be looking for, and how will results be reported, if at all, to the public? It's possible this will be an excellent monitoring program, but given Williamson County's financial interest in seeing Hutto continue to operate, I'm doubtful...

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