Lizzy Fitzsousa May 22, 2014, 5:22pm

NEW ORLEANS – A federal appeals court has reversed a lower court decision disallowing the dismissal of a lawsuit against two immigration officers for civil rights violations after several detainees were sexually assaulted by a third party contractor.

On May 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit dismissed the case against two immigration officers who were accused of violating detained immigrants' rights. The Court reversed the decision of the District Court for Western District of Texas, which had denied the officers' motion to dismiss based on qualified immunity.

Sarah Doe, Kimberly Doe, Raquel Doe, Anna Roe, Georgina Roe, Emily Roe, Beth Roe and Constance Roe brought initial case against George Robertson and Jose Rosado, both U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracting officers' technical representatives. The women, who were female immigrants detained at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center by ICE, claimed they were sexually assaulted during transportation from Hutto to a bus station or airport. The plaintiffs alleged that a male employee, Donald Dunn, from Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a private company, sexually assaulted each of them when transporting the plaintiffs by himself. Dunn pleaded guilty to state and federal charges arising from these assaults. The case alleges that due to service agreement between ICE and Williamson County, Texas, which subcontracts to CCA, ICE should be responsible for a violation of the plaintiffs’ Fifth Amendment due process right to freedom from “deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm.”

The suit argued that the officials knew detainees were required to be transported by at least one officer of the same gender in order to prevent sexual assault under the service agreement. Robertson and Roasado were the officials who worked at Hutto responsible for monitoring all technical aspects and assisting in administering the service agreement as well as responsible for detainee transport.

The appeals court held that the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity as they did not exhibit deliberate indifference. Despite admitting that the defendants were aware of the service agreement and the aim it had in preventing sexual assault, the court held that knowledge of a contractual violation does not render risk of assault constitutionally substantial.

Case No. 13-50459.

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