Federal court upholds detainee's lawsuit against Berks County Residential Center

July 2, 2019 | Reading Eagle | Karen Shuey

The victim of a sexual assault contends the county failed to implement policies to prevent the assault and that staff was indifferent to the assault.


The victim of sexual assault at the hands of a Berks County Residential Center employee can move ahead with her lawsuit against the county and several staff members of the facility, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.

The ruling stems from a June 2016 civil suit filed in federal court by the victim — who was 19 when the assault occurred in 2014 — alleging the county failed to implement policies to prevent the assault and that staff members at the facility were deliberately indifferent to the assault.

The county and several staff members named in the suit filed an appeal days before the trial was set to begin in April 2018.

The county asked the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia to dismiss the case while the staff members asked the court to grant them qualified immunity — a legal doctrine that shields government officials from being sued for misconduct unless their actions violate established federal law or constitutional rights.

The appeal was denied by a three-judge panel. U.S. District Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo wrote the opinion.

In the 16-page ruling, the judges affirmed that immigration detainees are entitled to the same constitutional protections afforded to all pretrial detainees by the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. And, because of that finding, the suit against the county and staff members at the facility can proceed.

“… We agree there is enough evidence to support an inference that the defendants knew of the risk facing [the victim], and that their failure to take additional steps to protect her — acting in their capacity as either a coworker or supervisor — could be viewed by a fact finder as the sort of deliberate indifference to a detainee's safety that the Constitution forbids,” Restrepo wrote in the ruling.

Read more →