LINCOLN — Cass County has reached an out-of-court settlement with a Honduran immigrant who said that while she was incarcerated, jail officials ignored her allegations of assault and rape by a fellow detainee, instead offering her a Tylenol.
The American Civil Liberties Union in Nebraska filed a federal lawsuit in January on behalf of the 27-year-old resident of Storm Lake, Iowa.
Federal authorities detained her in 2009 after local police investigated a report of domestic assault at her home. At the time, the woman was an illegal immigrant. She was granted legal, permanent resident status in 2010 through a program for victims of domestic violence.
The woman said in the lawsuit that Cass County officials failed to respond to her reports of almost daily beatings during four months of detention. She also stated that they declined to provide medical care, saying “immigration doesn't pay for that.”
The woman said fear initially kept her from reporting that she had been sexually penetrated by another female detainee. But when she did, she said, she was just offered a Tylenol.
Terms of the settlement were not released. Cass County officials, in a joint statement with the ACLU, stated that they were not deliberately indifferent to the woman's allegations and had strengthened their policies and training to ensure inmate safety.
The Omaha World-Herald policy is to not disclose the names of sexual assault victims unless they grant permission. The woman could not be reached Friday.
The woman, the mother of three, eventually was transferred to another detention facility, where she received medical attention and counseling for post-traumatic stress.
ACLU Legal Director Amy Miller said the case was an example of the nation's “broken” immigration policies and the potential danger of “show me your papers” laws like Arizona's, which allow local law enforcement agents to detain illegal immigrants.
Such laws discourage immigrants from reporting crimes to police, Miller said.
“There is a very good reason why state criminal law enforcement and federal civil immigration law enforcement are kept separate,” Miller said.
An advocate for tougher laws on illegal immigration, Susan Smith of Omaha, founder of the Nebraskans Advisory Group, said the Cass County case was a good example of why Nebraska and other states need to adopt Arizona-style enforcement measures. They deter illegal immigrants from coming to the United States, thus avoiding expensive lawsuits like this one, she said.
The jail abuse lawsuit, settled in May, named Cass County Jail Administrator Jeff Lickei and County Sheriff Bill Brueggemann as defendants, along with the county. A message left with County Attorney Nathan Cox was not immediately returned.
The county, in the joint statement with the ACLU, stated that Cass County admitted no violations of civil rights but wished to settle the lawsuit to save the cost and time of litigation.
Contact the writer: