A former inmate at McLennan County’s privately operated jail alleges she suffered physical and emotional abuse at the hands of a guard during more than two years of incarceration there.
Estela Fajardo, jailed on a felony theft charge and an immigration hold, is seeking from $200,000 to $1 million in a lawsuit filed Friday in 74th State District Court against Southwestern Correctional, parent company of LaSalle Corrections, and LaSalle guard Charis Kendricks.
Kendricks and Ryan Horvath in the LaSalle legal department at corporate headquarters in Ruston, Louisiana, did not return phone messages Friday. LaSalle contracts with McLennan County to operate the Jack Harwell Detention Center in Waco.
The lawsuit alleges that Kendricks “made inappropriate remarks of a sexual nature to plaintiff, and on more than one occasion intentionally or knowingly made contact with plaintiff’s person.”
“Plaintiff was emotionally and physically upset by the inappropriate touching of her body by Kendricks, and by the inappropriate remarks by Kendricks, and plaintiff suffered embarrassment, humiliation and mental anguish as a result of such contact and remarks, all of which were offensive and insulting,” the lawsuit alleges.
Fajardo was the subject of a demonstration in June outside the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office by members of the Waco Immigrants Alliance. They called for an outside agency to investigate Fajardo’s allegations.
Chief Deputy David Kilcrease pledged at that time to reopen the initial investigation into her complaints. But he said in June that based on Fajardo’s own description of what happened and statements she made in recorded jail conversations, the incidents are not crimes and amount to routine “textbook pat-downs” by a female officer.
“It’s obvious here that the whole thing is to try to enhance her immigration status,” Kilcrease said in June. “But ruining somebody’s life so she can keep her life here is not reasonable. If somebody did something to her, they need to answer for it. But what she is claiming is just not there. This is a textbook pat-down. There was nothing wrong with it, or there was certainly nothing illegal about it.”
Fajardo’s attorney, Gerald R. Villarrial, disagrees. He denies Fajardo’s claims have anything to do with her immigration status and said the Texas Commission on Jail Standards issued a failing grade after a recent inspection of the Jack Harwell Detention Center, its third failure in the past four years.
Staff at the facility falsified logs to make it appear they checked on inmates at the required times, while surveillance footage shows some of the checks happened at intervals up to four times longer than the maximum allowed, according to the commission report.
The inspection also found jail staffing was below minimum requirements and jailers were not in their assigned wings.
“I think there is difference between a pat-down and someone grabbing your breast,” Villarrial said. “And I am not satisfied with the investigation they did. I can’t help but be skeptical with Kilcrease’s statement that they are going to reopen the investigation and in the next breath he says she is just doing this for immigration purposes.”
Kilcrease did not return a phone message Friday.
“She was routinely brought out by this particular guard and brought into areas where the cameras couldn’t see her and fondled on her breasts,” Villarrial said. “There were sexual advances made to her, and when she would not reciprocate to these advances, she had holy hell to pay. She was searched more and harassed more by this particular guard.”
Fajardo has since been transferred to the McLennan County Jail, where she has a pending state-jail felony theft case and an immigration hold on her, Villarrial said.