Court Coverage

Jan 6, 2011 1:44 PM

Kentucky Inmate Sues CCA, Claims Sexual Assault

LOUISVILLE (AP) - A German woman has filed a lawsuit against a private company that ran a Kentucky prison and some of its employees, saying she was forced to trade sex to call her ill mother.

The suit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Louisville is the latest in a series of cases alleging sexual assault at the Otter Creek Correctional Complex in Wheelwright. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear ordered all the female prisoners removed from the facility a year ago when a scandal involving corrections officers and inmates reached its height.

The lawsuit says the inmate, a 38-year-old German citizen, is serving five years for theft and other charges. Although the lawsuit names the inmate, the Associated Press does not generally identify those who say they have been sexually assaulted.

The lawsuit accuses Dwight Crowell, an internal affairs officer at the prison, of sexual assault. It also names several of his superiors - former Otter Creek Warden Jeff Little, currently the security chief at another CCA prison, Lee Adjustment Center, John Ferguson, chairman of CCA's board of directors and Tony Grande, an executive vice president of CCA - and says they didn't stop the wrongdoing.

Louise Graham, a spokeswoman for CCA in Nashville, Tenn., declined to address the specifics of the inmate's allegations.

"I can confirm that the Kentucky State Police have an ongoing investigation into this matter," Graham said.

No listing for Crowell could be found in the area surrounding the prison. Graham declined to provide any contact information for him.

Kentucky State Police did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Kentucky pulled female inmates from Otter Creek Correctional Complex after a sex scandal involving prisoners and guards at the Corrections Corporation of America-owned prison. Several hundred women were relocated 377 miles away to the state-run Western Kentucky Correctional Complex in Fredonia.

Other inmates, including the one who filed suit Wednesday night, were moved to the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women in Pewee Valley.

In the lawsuit, the inmate alleged that sexual abuse took place starting in July 2008 and kept up over an 18 month period before the state moved the female inmates.

Crowell threatened to harm the inmate's chances at parole and have her deported away from her children if she reported the sexual abuse, according to the lawsuit.

The inmate said the prison's internal grievance system was useless because all complaints were routed through Crowell and that anonymous phone lines given to inmates didn't protect their identities. The phone required inmates to give their identifications numbers to make the calls, the inmate said.

Graham wouldn't specifically discuss that allegation, but said CCA offers multiple ways for inmates to report sexual abuse, including telephone hotlines.

"Additionally, all CCA employees are provided training, and inmates are oriented on ways in which to report - both anonymously and otherwise - claims of this nature," Graham said.

The inmate's lawyers, Larry Simon and Christina Norris, said prison administrators and CCA officials were aware of sexual abuse allegations at the prison, but didn't adequately investigate them or train staff.

At least two other federal lawsuits have been pursued by former inmates at Otter Creek. CCA was dismissed from both.

Former Otter Creek inmates have told The Associated Press that rules at Otter Creek weren't strictly enforced and that, in some cases, inmates traded sex for favors from the guards.

"There was an agenda behind it, not that it was OK for a staff member to do that," said 40-year-old Stephanie Spitser, who is serving life in prison for murder and kidnapping.

Kentucky changed its law concerning sex between prison staff and inmates. Under a provision passed in 2010, prison guards, jailers and other staffers who oversee inmates could be charged with felony rape and sodomy for having consensual sex with prisoners. Under current law, corrections officers face only misdemeanor charges for consensual sex with inmates.

Perched on a mountainside above Wheelwright, the Otter Creek prison came under public scrutiny when female inmates from Hawaii complained that they had been subjected to sexual assaults by their male guards.

Corrections officials in Hawaii removed 165 inmates from Otter Creek in 2009, citing safety concerns.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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