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$4.1 Million Award In Suit Over Sexual Assault of Prisoners by Official

$4.1 Million Award In Suit Over Sexual Assault of Prisoners By Official

by Matthew T. Clarke

A federal district court in Texas has awarded two female prisoners who were the victims of sexual assault by a prison official $4.1 million in a jury trial.

Plaintiffs, "A" and "B" were female state prisoners at the Murray Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). In November, 1996, "A" and "B" were sexually assaulted by David Taylor, a parole officer, in an office maintained by the Board of Pardons and Paroles inside the prison during a pre-release interview. After he sexually assaulted "A," Taylor told her he was a Desert Storm participant who had been trained as a sniper and explosives expert and threatened her family should she report the incident. Two days later, "A" reported the sexual assault to Internal Affairs Investigator William Musser. Taylor sexually assaulted "B" one week later.

Plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Musser, TDCJ, the Board of Pardons and Paroles (BPP), and the prison's warden, assistant warden and captain. The suit alleged that the pre-release interviews should have been co-monitored by a female to prevent such incidents and that Musser failed to protect "B" after "A" reported the first sexual assault.

Musser claimed he planned to audio tape the next pre-release interview, but "B" was sexually assaulted before he acted. Musser also relied on existing prison policy which did not require the presence of a second person during a pre-release interview and claimed that the initial report by "A" only complained of breast touching, not fellatio and sexual intercourse which was later reported. He maintained his response was appropriate for an unsubstantiated allegation by one female prisoner who did not immediately report the incident. Taylor admitted sexual contact, but claimed it was consensual and initiated by the plaintiffs.

TDCJ and BPP were dismissed on 11th Amendment grounds. During trial, Musser settled with the plaintiffs for $95,000. A directed verdict was granted to the prison warden, assistant warden and captain, leaving only Taylor as a defendant. After a three day trial in September 1999, the jury voted 8-0 in the plaintiffs' favor, awarded $700,000 in actual damages and $1,500,000 in punitive damages to "A" and $400,000 in actual damages and $1,500,000 in punitive damages to "B".

Taylor resigned from BPP in November 1996. He was charged with criminal sexual assault and found not guilty. He recently filed for bankruptcy. Plaintiff's attorney Steve Gibbins commended the trial judge, stating that "Judge Sparks is a great jurist and gave a fair trial for all." See: "A" and "B" v. Ament, Cause No. A98-CA-503, USDC W.D.Tex.-Austin Div.

Source: The Blue Sheet of Central Texas

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Related legal case

"A" and "B" v. Ament