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Chaplain Can Re-enter the Brownsville Jail

Dec 29th, 2010 | Category: Cameron County, Legal Issues & Jails

By EMMA PEREZ-TREVINO, The Brownsville Herald, December 28, 2010 11:35 PM

Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio and Chaplain Gail Hanson have reached an agreement that will allow her to resume her ministry to female inmates, but with conditions. Hanson will still be allowed to voice her concerns over jail conditions, but she must advise county officials before speaking out.

This is part of the settlement regarding Lucio’s 2008 ban on Hanson’s ministry of women in the jail. Further, the county has agreed to pay $25,000 to the law firm of King & Spalding, which represented Hanson in the lawsuit. The chaplain did not seek any other monetary damages.

Hanson has agreed to provide the county and Sheriff’s Department with a “reasonable time” in which to address and remedy concerns over jail conditions before voicing them in a public forum or going to the media.

The chaplain acknowledged in the agreement that this “temporarily limits her state and federal free speech rights only during the reasonable time period” provided to the county and Sheriff’s Department. Hanson also agreed to immediately report to a law enforcement agency any conduct — regardless of its source — that she believes is a criminal offense. She also agreed not to pass messages between inmates.

In return, the ban on her ministry will be lifted and she will be able to carry out religious activities and counseling for the benefit of inmates.

County Judge Carlos H. Cascos and Lucio signed the agreement Dec. 20 and Hanson signed it on Dec. 21.

On Dec. 22, the parties notified the federal court that they had reached a settlement and would soon file dismissal documents with the court.

The settlement agreement also stipulates that entry into the jails is a “revocable privilege.” But the county and Lucio agreed not to revoke or restrict the privilege if she makes her concerns public — so long as she complies with the stipulation that she notify the county and Lucio first and gives them time to resolve the complaints.

The agreement also provides that the county and Lucio will instruct detention officers and jail administrative staff that Hanson is to be treated with the same courtesy and respect due all volunteer chaplains.

Hanson filed the civil rights lawsuit against the county and Lucio in federal court last year after he banned her from the jails. She alleged that he banned her in retaliation for publicly criticizing jail operations and the treatment of female inmates.

Lucio countered that Hanson had become too emotionally involved with some inmates to be trusted, and that this created a security risk.

Bruce Hodge, senior legal counsel of the county’s Civil Legal Division, represented the county and Lucio. Attorneys with the Texas Civil Rights Project of Austin also represented Hanson.


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