Officials in the Lonestar State said Sunday that a Texas deputy sexually assaulted an undocumented woman's 4-year-old child for months, possibly years, and threatened the child's mother with deportation if she spoke out about it. The deputy, Jose Nunez of the Bexar County Sheriff's Office, has been charged with super aggravated sexual assault of a child and faces a minimum of 25 years in prison if convicted, NBC News Reports.
"The details of the case are quite frankly heartbreaking, disturbing, disgusting and infuriating all at the same time," Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said at a press conference Sunday.
According to Salazar, Nunez may have abused the girl for months, possibly years. Although the nature of the alleged abuse isn't clear, Salazar said that it caused the child "pain" and "minor injury." He said that Nunez threatened to have the mother deported if she spoke up about the abuse.
However, the child made an "outcry" to her mother on Saturday night, Salazar said, and the two went to a local fire department and told them about Nunez's alleged abuse. Nunez was arrested while off-duty on Saturday morning.
Salazar also said that Nunez is related to the 4-year-old girl in some way, although he didn't reveal the nature of their relationship. He also said that Nunez may have abused other children as well, and said that anybody who believes their child may have been victimized by Nunez should call the sheriff's office.
Nunez — a 10-year veteran of the sheriff's office — was arrested on Sunday morning while off-duty, according to Salazar. He's been placed on administrative leave, which will be paid for 10 days and unpaid after that. Salazar stressed that "my objective is to separate this person from the agency as soon as possible."
Although it's unclear if the child's mother knew the precise nature or extent of the alleged abuse, Salazar said that Nunez "utilized" the mother's undocumented status to ensure that she kept quiet about his interactions with the child.
"The mother of this little girl is an undocumented immigrant. And my understanding is that this suspect utilized that to his advantage to place the mother in fear that she would be deported if she did report [the abuse]," Salazar said. "We believe that there was some hesitation on the part of the witness to report the [abuse] because of the fact that she's undocumented in the country."
He said that accommodations were being made to give the woman protected status "pending the outcome of this case," and assured other undocumented immigrants that they'll receive the same protections if they report crimes to law enforcement. Salazar refused to comment on the child's immigration status.
Salazar acknowledged that undocumented immigrants are often reluctant to report crimes for fear of being deported, and that his office is aware of this. A sweeping ACLU report released in May found that since Donald Trump Took office, sexual assault and domestic violence has become underreported, harder to investigate and more difficult to prosecute, because witnesses to and victims of those crimes are more reluctant to speak with law enforcement.
The reports of Nunez's alleged crimes come amidst a renewed national focus on treatment of undocumented immigrant children in the United States. The Trump administration's practice of separating undocumented children from their parents and putting them in cages has elicited widespread outrage since it was implemented in May. Administration officials have alternated between denying that they're doing this and, alternatively, falsely claiming that the law requires them to do it.
Salazar said that his office is "committed, absolutely, to rooting out misconduct in this agency."
"When one person, or persons, individually demonstrate, as has happened in this case, that they're not worthy to be a part of this agency, then we're going to quite frankly get them out of here," Salazar said. "We're going to cut them out like a cancer."