Berks County to pay $75,000 to settle sexual assault case brought by woman in ICE detention

Cherri Gregg
January 24, 2020 - 4:00 am

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Berks County will pay tens of thousands of dollars to a woman who was detained in its ICE facility. The settlement came on the eve of a trial scheduled to begin Friday — the woman was sexually abused as a teenager by one of the staffers.

Berks County will pay $75,000 to a woman who spent eight months inside of the Berks County Residential Center. Under a contract with ICE, the facility was used to house immigrants detained at the border during the pendency of asylum cases. 

"While there, a staff worker who had custody and control over the individuals there began a process of grooming her by bestowing favors, as well as threats," said Su Ming Yeh, interim executive director of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, which represented the woman, who was 19 at the time. 

Yeh says the 40-year-old staffer had sex with the woman, who was fleeing Honduras because of violence and sexual abuse and was detained at the facility with her 3-year-old son. 

She says the staffer had sex with the woman in bathrooms and in hallways several times and when she reported it, she was retaliated against. 

"Coming forward takes a lot of bravery and courage," Yeh said. 

Yeh says the staffer pleaded guilty to institutional sexual assault and did four months in prison. The woman, now 24, won her asylum case and now lives in Georgia.

"We are glad that this case was able to shine a spotlight on abuse in immigration detention," said Yeh.

The Berks County Solicitor issued a statement that said in part, "Berks County stands behind their defense of this action and their position that the Shelter Care Counselors had no knowledge of the intimate relationship between (the staffer and the woman)....The County remains committed to the services they provide to all residents of the Berks County Residential Center."