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Connecticut Woman Gang-Raped In Sheriff's Van Settles Suit For $480,000

by Michael Rigby

The State of Connecticut has paid $480,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a female prisoner who was gang-raped by male prisoners in the back of a sheriff's van.

On August 18, 1999, S.C. was a prisoner being transported in a New Haven County sheriff's van with 13 male prisoners. Some of the men had serious felony records. Two were convicted sex offenders.

The van consisted of a cab portion and a rear box portion for transporting prisoners. In the box, S.C. and the male prisoners were separated by steel partitions. Two deputies, the driver and a passenger, rode in the cab.

On entering the van, some of the prisoners made salacious remarks to S.C. within earshot of the two transporting deputies--Jack Collake and Ronald Ciarleglio. As they drove, four of the male prisoners began making threats, demands, and sexual remarks to S.C. Then, working in concert, the attackers broke down a gate in the partition separating the compartments.

Once in S.C.'s section, they stripped her naked and viciously sexually assaulted her. One of the men allegedly grabbed her in a headlock and raped her. The other three fondled her and masturbated. Although S.C. screamed and pleaded for help throughout the assault, Collake and Ciarleglio refused to stop the van or render any assistance.

The assailants all pleaded no contest to various sexual assault charges on January 25, 2002. Three of the men--including the lead attacker who was already serving a 100-year sentence for two prior rapes--received 15-year prison terms. The fourth was sentenced to 8 years. [See PLN, March 2003, p. 29].

On December 31, 2002, S.C. sued the two deputies and the state's High Sheriff, Frank Kinney, for failing to protect her. As to Collake and Ciarleglio, the complaint alleged they intentionally turned off the van's microphone and speaker system, perhaps in an attempt to avoid culpability. Even so, the complaint contended, the deputies were aware of the assault because S.C. was screaming and the van was shaking--yet they refused to help her. As for the High Sheriff, the complaint alleged he endangered S.C. through his policies of transporting female prisoners with males and prohibiting the prisoner transport box from being opened during transit.

The lawsuit against the deputies and the sheriff was eventually dropped, however, in exchange for the state's agreement to waive immunity and consent to be sued, said attorney Nicole Fournier in correspondence with PLN. In such situations, a plaintiff is not entitled to a jury trial, but rather to a trial by judge only," she said.

In July 2004, attorneys Fournier and Steven Errante negotiated a $480,000 settlement, which the State immediately paid. Richard Blumenthal, the State Attorney General, said the settlement ends one of the most disgraceful incidents in the state's history." Still pending is a products liability lawsuit against the companies responsible for manufacturing and maintaining the prisoner transport boxes, said Fournier.

The settlement is likely a small comfort to the victim. This was a terribly egregious, tragic case," said attorney Hugh F. Keefe, who also worked on S.C.'s case. It is beyond awful that any woman has to endure what this woman endured on that day.

S.C. was represented by attorneys Fournier, Errante, and Keefe of the New Haven law firm Lynch, Traub, Keefe and Errante. See: Caruso v. State, New Haven Superior Court, Case No. CV 03-0473410 S.

Additional Source: New Haven Register

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Related legal case

Caruso v. State