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Three women sue over sexual assault and retaliation at Otay Mesa Detention Center

Women say a guard assaulted them as they slept, during strip searches, and sexually assaulted them. His supervisor threatened them solitary if they reported it.
Credit: Katie Schoolov/KPBS
The sign at the entrance to the Otay Mesa Immigration and Detention Facility is pictured in San Diego, June 22, 2018

SAN DIEGO — Three female detainees at CoreCivic's Otay Mesa Detention Facility say a guard groped them as they slept, assaulted them during improper strip searches, and forced them to perform sex acts. The women also say the guard's supervisor threatened the women with solitary confinement if they reported the assaults. 

In a new lawsuit, three unnamed detainees lay out the alleged abuse they suffered at the hands of a CoreCivic guard and his supervisor inside the private detention facility in Otay Mesa.

The new allegations come more than a year after the ACLU called on the federal government to close the detention center amid reports of "inhumane practices," sexual assault, and "decades of abuse." In an April 2021 report, the ACLU found that there were "49 reported incidents of “inmate/detainee-on-inmate/detainee” sexual abuse and 19 reported incidents of “employee-on-inmate/detainee” sexual abuse, the most reported out of any CoreCivic facility in the country for either category."

According to the newly filed complaint, that trend continues.

One of the victims, referred to as Jane Doe 1 in the lawsuit, said the abuse began shortly after her booking. On one night in 2020, she said she woke up to the guard slapping her buttocks inside her cell. The guard then allegedly stayed inside her cell and stared at her for minutes after - CBS 8 is not naming the two individuals as no criminal charges have been filed.

According to the lawsuit, the guard then laughed in her face when she told him that she was going to tell his supervisors before telling her that no one would believe her. 

The abuse continued during the following weeks.

It culminated when the guard forced her to perform a sex act on him.

"[He told her] that if she did not comply with his demands he would tell everyone that she was 'coming on to him and that she would be sent to segregation," reads the lawsuit. "[He] told [her] that she was just a detainee, that it would be his word against hers, and that no one would believe her."

And, when the woman told the unit manager, she sys that he told her that he would report her to ICE and send her to solitary.

Another woman said the same guard would force her to undergo strip searches, forcing her to stand there for 30 minutes while he looked at her. The searches morphed into additional assaults.

Meanwhile, the third woman says she was also abused inside the detention center over "her sexual orientation and gender identity."

When she returned she was sent to solitary confinement for two weeks. 

"Jane Doe 3 was not allowed to use the phone during her time in solitary.
Officers would often forget to remove [her] from her cell and transport her to the showers. Jane Doe 3 basically spent 24 hours a day alone," reads the lawsuit."

According to the lawsuit the unit manager at the facility threatened to return her to solitary confinement if she filed a formal complaint.

Continued the lawsuit, "CoreCivic had advance knowledge of [the employees'] unfitness and continued to employ them with a conscious disregard for the rights and safety of [the women] and others, and ratified [their] conduct by failing to address or remedy their ongoing abuse and harassment."

In a statement to CBS 8, a spokesperson for CoreCivic said the company does not comment on pending litigation, however, added, "CoreCivic is committed to the safety and dignity of every person entrusted to our care.  

"We maintain a zero-tolerance policy for all forms of sexual abuse. Furthermore, it is our policy to provide a safe and secure environment for all detainees that is free from the threat of sexual abuse, assault, or harassment. We also aggressively investigate all sexual abuse allegations, regardless of the source, and support prosecution for those who are found to be involved in incidents of sexual abuse. Any detainees making such allegations are offered appropriate medical and mental health services, emotional support services, and answers to any questions they have about the investigative process."

The spokesperson said staff as well as all detainees are trained and educated on how to report sexual assaults and harassment and there are several options to do so. 

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