York prison cited in ICE sexual harassment complaint

David Weissman
  • A federal complaint alleges inadequate investigations into sexual abuse at ICE detention centers.
  • One woman in the complaint alleges she was sexually harassed at York County Prison.
  • Thirteen sexual assaults, including four by staff, were reported 2013-2015 at York County Prison.

Held in immigration detention at York County Prison in 2013, Rosanna Santos claims she was told by a correctional officer she would be sexually assaulted if she didn't follow his orders exactly, according to a complaint recently submitted to federal agencies.

When her attorney contacted the prison warden — Mary Sabol at the time — and U.S. Department of Homeland Security about the incident, Santos was "inexplicably placed in solitary confinement for 11 days" in a move she deems to be retaliation.

Santos is one of 27 Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees whose sexual abuse-related allegations were documented in the federal civil rights complaint alleging inadequate investigations into such reports at U.S. immigration detention facilities.

The complaint, filed by California-based nonprofit Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement, alleges that at least 1,016 detainees in DHS custody have submitted sexual abuse-related complaints to the Office of the Inspector General since May 2014, when the office began specifically categorizing such complaints.

The office investigated just 24 of those complaints, or less than 3 percent of them, according to the complaint.

York County Prison

DHS spokeswoman Gillian Christensen wrote in a statement that CIVIC's report is "grossly inaccurate," noting that Immigration and Customs Enforcement recorded more than 2 million admissions to its detention centers nationwide during the report's time frame.

"While ICE’s goal is to prevent all sexual abuse among its custody population, given the volume of individuals who annually pass through its detention system, the agency believes the overall incidence of such activity is very low," Christensen wrote.

She added that while the Office of Inspector General may investigate any allegation, it generally focuses on cases involving employee misconduct.

Santos was interviewed by a detention and deportation officer for the DHS Administrative Inquiry Unit about two months after the alleged sexual harassment, the complaint states, but nothing came of the meeting.

The complaint adds that Santos, a survivor of domestic violence, suffered from intense anxiety and depression from the harassment but never received the psychological counseling she requested.

York County Prison seeks more part-time officers

York County Prison: York County Commissioner Doug Hoke, who has served as president of the prison board for about 10 years, said he doesn't remember the specific incident but said it is the county's policy to fully investigate reports of sexual abuse.

According to statistics gathered by the state Department of Corrections, 13 cases of sexual assault were reported at York County Prison between 2013 and 2015. Four of those cases involved inmates sexually assaulted by staff. No statistics are kept on sexual harassment reports.

Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016--Doug Hoke, York County vice president commissioner. Bill Kalina photo

Some counties do a snapshot of the data on work-release prisoners annually on Jan. 31, the department said. There is no data collected on ICE detainees.

Santos' complaint states that the correctional officer who harassed her was allowed to continue working on the women's side of the prison.

Hoke said the officer's name didn't sound familiar and suggested The York Dispatch ask a deputy warden about him. That deputy warden did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

ICE detainees are held at the county prison under an agreement with the federal government, and Hoke said they are monitored by county correctional officers.

The monthly ICE detainee population at the prison since 2016 has ranged from as low 610 during May 2016 to as high as 798 during January 2017, according to figures compiled by county spokesman Mark Walters.

Santos is still fighting her immigration case while free on bond, according to an NBC News story written about the CIVIC complaint.

Previous cases: The prison's treatment of immigration detainees has come under scrutiny in the past.

A family member of Tiombe Kimana Carlos, a federal ICE detainee who hanged herself in the prison, filed a civil suit against the county in federal court in 2015, alleging the county failed to treat her "serious and chronic mental health needs," according to court filings.

Two lawsuits filed against York County

Carlos used a sheet to hang herself on Oct. 23, 2013, after being transferred to a cell designed to make it difficult for inmates to commit suicide. By the time guards found Carlos, she didn't have a pulse and was later pronounced dead at a hospital, according to her family's lawsuit. She was 34.

The civil suit remains open, according to court filings.

About the same time that lawsuit was filed, a former York County Prison guard filed a separate lawsuit against the county, alleging she was terminated from her job for reporting guard malfeasance to supervisors and the warden.

Guard suing prison: Former corrections officer Denise Keller's suit, which also remains open, alleges she was suspended for five days in 2014 after intervening when she witnessed a corrections officer sexually harassing an ICE detainee.

In its initial response to the lawsuit, the county admitted Keller observed an officer making inappropriate comments to a female inmate, though it denied her confrontation and subsequent suspension were the result of her trying to intervene.

Keller also reported suspicions that ICE detainees were not receiving money deposited in their accounts, according to the suit.

Keller was terminated from her job in June 2015 after an inmate with a known heroin addiction alleged the two had "contact of a physical nature," according to the lawsuit, which calls that allegation false.

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.