WASHINGTON (CN) — Clearing the way for a trial of two jail guards, a federal judge said jurors might agree that their deliberate indifference caused the rape of a transgender woman they locked up for the night with a man who had penchant for sexual violence toward cellmates.
"Prison officials may not simply bury their heads in the sand and thereby skirt liability," U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss wrote.
The assaulted inmate is identified in the ruling only as Jane Doe. When she was attacked in July 2012, Doe was 20 years old, 5-foot-5 and wearing a training bra for the breasts she was growing through hormone therapy.
Leonard Johnson, the man she says attacked her, was 6-foot-1 and serving a 69-month sentence. Since 1995, Johnson had been booked into the District of Columbia's Central Detention Facility on 18 separate occasions. The Oct. 18 ruling in Doe's case says "Johnson had a history of sexual violence in the D.C. Jail."
A representative for the D.C. jail did not return a message seeking comment on the case.
Less than a year before his night in Doe's cell, the jail had conducted an investigation into Johnson's rape of a gay cellmate, according to one court exhibit.
The ruling notes that Doe had a feminine appearance, and "house-alone" status for the sentence she was set to serve at the D.C.
Doe says she alerted Lt. Robert Gladden to her status as soon as he brought Johnson over to her cell.
A transcript of their alleged discussion appears in Doe's deposition.
Gladden: "Is it okay for him [Johnson] to stay here?"
Doe: "No ... I [am] supposed to be housed alone. ... Nobody is supposed to be here with me."
Gladden: "Well, he's going in here anyway. . . . [H]e's only going to be here for a couple of minutes." Doe: "Okay, it's fine with me if he's only going to be here for a couple of minutes."
When a few minutes turned into an hour, Doe says she requested to speak to the warden.
The guards told her she could fill out a grievance but they ignored her requests to provide such a form, according to her deposition.
When Gladden finally did take Johnson out of Doe's cell this lasted just 15 minutes.
Surveillance video of the jail shows that Cpl. Longinus Ogu placed Johnson back in Doe's cell at 3:02 a.m., locked the door and walked away.
That same "footage shows that, with perhaps one exception, no guard visually checked on Doe's cell until the next shift arrived the following morning," according to the ruling.
Doe says Johnson found a makeshift knife hidden in the cell's light fixture and that he raped her twice in the cell over the next several hours.
She was afraid to scream because of the knife, and says no guards were present when she went to the window of her cell door in between the attacks.
When a team of guards relieved Gladden and Ogu from duty at 7:47 a.m., it was a female guard in this group who noticed that Doe was improperly double-celled with Johnson. After Johnson was put in a holding cage, Doe received medical treatment for anal rape.
Doe filed suit against all six guards on duty the night of her attack, as well as the District of Columbia.
Judge Moss refused Tuesday to grant Gladden and Ogu summary judgment on Doe's Eighth Amendment claims.
"The court concludes that a reasonable jury could find that Gladden and Ogu acted with deliberate indifference, and thereby violated the Eighth Amendment, when they left Johnson in Doe's cell unsupervised overnight," according to the ruling.
Moss emphasized that this does not necessarily mean Gladden and Ogu are liable.
"The jury may or may not find the factual predicates to Doe's Eighth Amendment claims," the ruling concludes. "But, on the present record, and resolving all disputed factual issues in Doe's favor, qualified immunity is unavailable."
Doe did not challenge the motion for summary judgment on the same claims by the other four guards.
The ruling notes that Doe's "house-alone" status was included in her files, and posted on the office bulletin board for guards.
As a 27-year veteran with the Department of Corrections, the court found that Gladden should have known what "house alone" meant, and should have known that rapist inmates shouldn't be given cellmates.
Gladden claimed that that the Jail Community Corrections System does not reveal whether inmates have raped anyone at the facility, but testimony from a colleague says otherwise.
Cpl. Kiana Reid, the same woman who noticed the problem with double-celling Doe and Johnson, testified in deposition that, when one inmate rapes another inmate, "notification [is] made" to all officers with rank "lieutenant ... or above."
The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) specifically indicates the need for extra protective measures for inmates who are transgender, homosexual, slight of build or could otherwise be considered vulnerable to attack.
Both Gladden and Ogu received PREA training , as well as training in the "DOC's program statement on the elimination of sexual assault policy ... and the DOC's program statement on gender housing classification," according to the ruling.
As part of his ruling, Judge Moss cited the 1994 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Farmer v. Brennan, which says "prison officials may be held liable under the Eighth Amendment for the rape of a transgender inmate by another inmate if the officials knew that the victim faced a substantial risk of serious harm and they disregarded that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it."
Moss said "this right was clearly established ... well before July 2012."
"In the simplest and most absolute terms, the Eighth Amendment right of prisoners to be free from sexual abuse was unquestionably clearly established ... and no reasonable prison guard could possibly have believed otherwise," he added.
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