Female Guards Must Press Prisoner Sex Abuse Claims

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Female guards in California prisons say officials ignored abuse heaped on them by male inmates, including indecent exposure, masturbation and ejaculation. But they’ll have to make their case in court, a federal judge ruled.
     Martha Berndt, Marta Hastings, Sophia Curry, Shelly Adcock, Patricia Moreira, Karen Curry, Lisa Boyd, Kimberley Morin, Raisa Jeffries and the estate of Judy Longo sued the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) claiming to have been sexually harassed by inmates as far back as 1989.
     The women, all corrections officers, say there have been more than 2,000 incidents of disgusting behavior directed at them by inmates since 1997, including 500 at Pelican Bay State Prison alone.
     One of the women, Longo, was forced to retire rather than be fired for refusing to give medication to an inmate who had a history of masturbating in front of her and Berndt. Longo committed suicide in 2009.
     In 2012, U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton denied the guards’ request to proceed as a class, finding the women had failed to exhaust their administrative options and that a lack of commonality in their experiences with the inmates doomed their putative class action.
     On Tuesday, Hamilton denied all parties’ requests for summary judgment in a flurry of 10 separate orders.
     For Berndt and Hastings, Hamilton said that a similar case involving another guard – which ultimately found CDCR liable for not putting a stop to vile inmate conduct – applied only to that guard and did not decide whether they were subjected to a hostile work environment as well.
     Berndt didn’t show that two supervisors ignored her reports that two inmates, both named Jackson, constantly masturbated in front of her and said “Bitch, you know you like it!”
     However, a third supervisor, who ordered one of the Jacksons to be placed in a cell with a view of Berndt’s control booth, cannot claim qualified immunity at this time, the judge said.
     But in Hastings’ case the number of complaints she filed with officials at her facility raise sufficient questions about whether her concerns were adequately addressed. She did not adequately accuse any specific official of wrongdoing to be able to go forward on that, however, Hamilton said.
     In Longo’s case, a genuine dispute of fact remains as to whether her supervisors punished her – not because she refused to give medication to an inmate, but because of her gender. And while her estate showed enough to advance the case that two supervisors ignored reports, it appears unlikely that a third supervisor had any idea what was going on, Hamilton said.
     For Curry, the dispute of fact involves how the Sacramento prison she worked for responded when she warned officials that an inmate was “a threat to all female staff.” And while Curry may have a gender discrimination case against CDCR, her claims of racial harassment “appear to be pure hearsay and cannot support Curry’s own claim,” Hamilton wrote.
     Similarly, Morin – who runs a treatment group for inmates in the Sacramento facility and claims that inmates “constantly expose their genitals, and masturbate and ejaculate during such groups – failed to decisively prove that prison officials denied her requests to remove inmates from her group or tailor special indecent-exposure jumpsuits so that they don’t droop at the crotch.
     Moreira’s accusations that officials at her prison returned a known chronic masturbator back to her unit contain enough to move her case forward, Hamilton found. But the guard failed to show that her direct supervisor took part in the decision or even knew it had happened, and the supervisor cannot be held liable for it, Hamilton said.
     Delays in getting Karen Currie transferred away from masturbating inmates could indicate an unreasonable response by CDCR that was possibly related to Currie’s gender, the judge said.
     A settlement conference before a magistrate judge is set for Nov. 7.

%d bloggers like this: