In August, President Donald Trump promoted six judges to the Justice Department’s Board of Immigration Appeals. One of them allegedly threatened to sic a dog on a two-year-old boy for making noise in his courtroom, Mother Jones reported today.
According to the magazine, Judge V. Stuart Couch allegedly made the threat to a Guatemalan toddler during a March 2016 asylum hearing in Charlotte, NC. Kathryn Coiner-Collier, who was then a coordinator for a project run by the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, said she witnessed Couch point at the child and demand his silence before threatening him.
“I have a very big dog in my office, and if you don’t be quiet, he will come out and bite you!” Coiner-Collier said Couch yelled. While Mother Jones notes she was the lone independent observer present in the courtroom, she said she “ferociously scribbled everything” down that the judge was saying before telling her supervisors and writing an affidavit containing that exchange, which was submitted in an April 2016 complaint to the Justice Department.
She also said that after the incident, Couch vaguely attempted to apologize for his behavior. Per the magazine:
Coiner-Collier says Assistant Chief Immigration Judge Deepali Nadkarni, Couch’s superior, interviewed her multiples times about the affidavit and told her that it was accurate. Schorr says Nadkarni told him that everything in the affidavit was corroborated by the internal investigation. Nadkarni wrote to Schorr in June 2016, “Judge Couch acknowledged he did not handle the situation properly and assured me it will not occur again.”
When she went back to the courtroom to file paperwork, Couch told her, “I owe you an apology.” He said he knew it wasn’t her job to watch over children. Then he made a comment that suggested he had threatened other children. Coiner-Collier paraphrased what he said in her affidavit: “Usually when I threaten children with scary animals, it works. Not with this kid.” (Coiner-Collier and others who have appeared before Couch never witnessed him threaten another child.)
Still, it’s unclear whether Couch was disciplined in any way, even before his promotion. From Mother Jones, emphasis mine:
Schorr doesn’t think that Couch should have been able to remain on the bench after his threat to call in a dog on a child. In an unexpected way, he got his wish: In August, the Trump administration promoted Couch and five other judges to the Justice Department’s Board of Immigration Appeals, which often has the final say over whether immigrants are deported.
Schorr says Nadkarni, Couch’s superior, told him that the Justice Department would take appropriate action, but Nadkarni was not able to offer any specifics. Schorr still doesn’t know whether Couch was disciplined. (Coiner-Collier says Couch later told her that she put his job on the line by complaining.)
According to Coiner-Collier, Couch also turned off the courtroom’s recorder as he made the threat, then turned it back on and made a statement inflating the boy’s age from two to five.
“I will have the record reflect that [the boy] is a 5-year-old respondent that has been very disruptive during this hearing,” Couch allegedly said, according to Coiner-Collier’s recollection of her affidavit. “The court had tried to control the child’s behavior and has been unsuccessful…The court is using a strong voice and strong language with him in the absence of parental control.”
Despite Coiner-Collier recounting Couch saying he would reassign the case to another judge, she said the boy and his mother were scheduled to appear before him again in August 2017. When the case finally was reassigned, the next judge denied their asylum petition.
The mother of the boy who was allegedly threatened declined to comment to Mother Jones, and told her attorney she was still afraid of Couch. The mother has appealed the asylum decision, but now the family’s case is pending before the appeals board—the same body where Couch was appointed.