After two asylum seekers were arrested last summer and accused of sexual assault at Buffalo-area motels, Gov. Kathy Hochul sent in the National Guard to provide a “stabilizing presence” there and at a handful of other motels being used as shelters.
But now the Guard is investigating whether some of its members engaged in sexual misconduct with migrants in western New York, amid a new lawsuit accusing Guard members and private supervisors of various abuses.
The lawsuit, filed on Thursday in Federal District Court in Manhattan, describes a culture of coercion, fear and retribution at the Quality Inn motel near the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, one of the many low-budget lodgings where recent migrants have been relocated to relieve pressure on New York City’s beleaguered shelter system.
One guardsman was accused of sexual assault for coercing a Venezuelan woman to trade sexual favors in exchange for food and housing, and another of groping the woman’s 10-year-old daughter.
The National Guard would neither confirm nor deny a sexual misconduct investigation in western New York, but Sgt. Deven Colon, the guardsman accused in the lawsuit of having sex with the Venezuelan woman, confirmed that an inquiry had begun.
In a telephone interview last week, Sergeant Colon said his superiors told him there were “allegations, some sexual, against multiple soldiers — and you’re involved.” He denied ever having a sexual encounter with any migrant.
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