“Treatment at the Sherburne County jail is not cruel,” he said.
Sherburne County has made a business out of housing other people’s prisoners. In addition to the 85 ICE detainees, there are 183 other federal prisoners and 136 state Department of Corrections prisoners. The county receives about $11.5 million a year to house those prisoners, translating to about $900,000 in profit.
One of those state prisoners is John Allen Goetz, who was convicted of two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in 2006 for molesting four children, including a 4-year-old girl. Goetz, 31, has been serving his sentence in Sherburne County with a release date of 2019.
A criminal complaint does not indicate it, but Goetz was placed in a cell with an 18-year-old ICE detainee awaiting a ruling on whether he will be deported.
The victim’s route to Sherburne County’s cell #221 began after being convicted of trying to steal a watch from a Wal-Mart and for a city ordinance violation of possession of a small amount of marijuana. After his name was published in the local newspaper, ICE requested his criminal records. They came to his house in February, arrested him and began removal proceedings.
The victim was placed in a cell with Goetz for about a week in late February. At the end of March, according to the criminal complaint, the victim reported to corrections staff that Goetz had touched him while they were cellmates, saying he would be sleeping on the top bunk and awaken to find Goetz standing next to him. He would often pretend to be asleep and would move or turn but Goetz would not stop. The victim asked to be moved from the cell, a request that occurred about eight days after the offenses started.
Goetz was charged earlier this month with one count of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct. According to the complaint against him, he admitted grabbing at his cellmate’s genitals numerous times as he slept, but denied doing it for sexual gratification. He acknowledged to investigators, though, that he thought the victim was “cute and young.”
Goetz has since been placed in a different housing unit. His victim has been released, but still faces deportation.
“When you mix immigrant detainees with criminal detainees it just ups the risk factor of there being actual assaults and people being put in harm’s way,” said Linus Chan, director of the Detainee Rights Clinic at the Center for New Americans at the University of Minnesota.
The jail was last inspected for ICE in December and is inspected annually. ICE declined a request by the Star Tribune for a copy of the latest inspection report. Sherburne’s Carr deferred to ICE, but said there have been no other incidents of sexual assault against ICE detainees.
Issues with separation of felons and immigrants with low-level criminal histories are not unique to Sherburne. In 2012, a Homeland Security inspection found Ramsey County had misclassified at least two detainees. Both were classified as Level I offenders in ICE’s system, meaning they were convicted of misdemeanor crimes. Ramsey classified one of them as a Level III offender because of his “refusal to comply with … officers during a prior removal from the U.S.” Homeland Security warned that misclassifying the detainees “could potentially result in placing nonviolent ICE detainees in housing units with violent, high threat detainees. This could potentially expose them to physical or psychological danger and unnecessary risk,” according to the audit.
Ramsey County disputed the classification error.
‘ICE keeps you ... frozen’
Back in Sherburne County, Jallah, who had permanent residence status, has been detained since February and described the jail as a place that instills fear in many detainees.
“ICE keeps you in here frozen. You can’t make any moves,” Jallah said. “Some get so tired of being in here that they stop fighting their case and say they want to be deported.”
He faces the same fate. Later this month an immigration judge will decide if he can stay or will be deported to Liberia. Jallah has been in the state since 2002 and says he has no roots in the country he left as a teenager.
“I came here when I was 13. I don’t have any family over there,” Jallah said. “There is no law and order. If I get sent back I won’t have anyone there.”
Jallah was working in the oil fields of Williston, N.D., after serving time for a theft conviction in 2010. He said he was on his way to see his probation officer in Duluth when he was pulled over for a burned-out taillight. He was booked in jail and ICE placed a hold on him.