Friday, April 19, 2019

Texas couple found guilty of enslaving girl from Guinea for 16 years

  • >> Niraj Chokshi, The New York Times
    Published: 2019-01-12 13:03:50 BdST

bdnews24
In undated photos provided by the Tarrant County Sheriff's Department in Texas: Mohamed Toure, left, and Denise Cros-Toure, a Fort Worth couple accused of enslaving a Guinean woman. The New York Times

A federal jury on Thursday found a Texas couple guilty of enslaving a girl from Guinea for 16 years at their home in a Dallas-Fort Worth suburb, where she was forced to cook, clean and care for their children, investigators said.

Federal authorities had accused the couple, Mohamed Toure and Denise Cros-Toure of Southlake, of forcing the girl to work for them and their five children from when she was 6 until she was 22, according to a court filing. Toure is the son of Guinea’s first president, Ahmed Sékou Touré, who led the country for 26 years until his death in 1984.

After a four-day trial and a day of deliberations, the jury found the couple guilty on several counts, including the forced labour charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. A sentencing date has not been set.

“I’m gratified that we were able to obtain a measure of justice for this young woman, who suffered for years at the hands of this couple,” Erin Nealy Cox, the US attorney for the Northern District of Texas, said in a statement.

In an April court filing, a special agent for the State Department laid out the case against the couple.

The agent said that Toure and Cros-Toure had forced the girl, identified as “Female Victim 1,” to cook, clean and provide child care without pay. Authorities also said the couple had physically and emotionally abused the girl.

Lawyers for Toure and Cros-Toure dismissed the government’s claims, arguing that the couple had tried to help the girl, identified in court documents as “DD” and by The Dallas Morning News as Djena Diallo.

“They were trying not to send her back to Guinea and keep her here in America so she would have a better life,” Brady T Wyatt III, who represented Toure, said in an interview.

According to the April filing, the young woman, who is now 24, told the investigator that she had grown up in a mud hut in a village in Guinea. When she was young, her father, a farmer, took her to the home of Cros-Toure’s parents, where she cared for Cros-Toure’s sister for one to two years.

When the girl was 5, she was brought to the United States on a tourist visa and was almost immediately put to work, according to the filing. She said she spoke no English at the time.

She would start working at 6:30 am or 7 am every day, cleaning, making beds, vacuuming, cooking and gardening, among other chores, and would continue until the Toure children went to bed, she told authorities. Several unidentified witnesses confirmed seeing her perform such chores at various points from 2000 to 2016.

Authorities accused Toure and Cros-Toure of denying the girl the schooling, medical care and other opportunities they afforded their five children, some of whom were older than her. When asked about the girl, the couple would say that she was a niece and had finished high school, according to the filing.

Wyatt, the lawyer for Toure, and Scott Palmer, a lawyer for Cros-Toure, said the family had good intentions, but that their efforts to help the woman were frustrated by her status as an immigrant without legal permission.

“The intentions were to actually get her in school and to educate her, but then, once she was here, they needed the documentation to get her into school that they didn’t have,” Palmer said.

But federal authorities painted a darker picture.

According to the April filing, Cros-Toure would physically abuse the girl, who had scars consistent with stories she told of being whipped with an electrical cord and having an earring ripped from her ear. The girl also said she had visited a doctor only once and had slept on a floor for years, upgrading to a twin bed only when one of the children left for college.

In June 2016, she got into a fight with the couple and ran away, according to the filing. She spent a night with one of the unidentified witnesses, for whom she had previously worked as a baby sitter. The witness called a friend who let the young woman stay with her for a week, but she then returned to the Toure household. She was forbidden to leave and considered suicide, she said.

That August, the young woman reached out to a former neighbour. The two met at a Starbucks where the young woman explained that the situation at home had worsened, according to the filing. The neighbour encouraged her to collect evidence, including photos, to prove that she had lived in the Toure household for years.

With the help of several others, the young woman soon escaped from the house with only a duffel bag and a backpack and was taken to a local YMCA, according to the filing.

Authorities said in the filing that there were no state records of Toure working and that records showed that Cros-Toure worked for Delta Air Lines from 2005 to 2006 and as a substitute teacher beginning in 2016. The couple relied on “significant overseas deposits” as their primary source of income and collected about $200,000 per year from 2010 to 2016, according to authorities.

© 2019 New York Times News Service