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Texas: Sexually Assaulted Boot Camp Prisoners Awarded $2,800,000 Against CSC

On December 12, 2001 three former female prisoners who claimed they were sexually assaulted while imprisoned in a privately operated boot camp in Mansfield, Texas were awarded a total of $2,800,000 against the camp's operator.

Plaintiffs, Keri Echols Chattha, 17, Karen Fowler, 19, and Annawaynette Creek, 33, claimed that between May 1998 and August 1998, while imprisoned at a boot camp operated by the Florida-based Correctional Services Corporation (CSC), they were sexually assaulted by CSC employees.

Fowler and Creek alleged that a maintenance worker crawled through the air vents to ogle them and then have sex with them in the bathroom. Chattha claimed that she was attacked and sexually molested in some bushes by a drill sergeant, Joseph Fonville, who was supposedly taking her on a run. Plaintiffs further claimed that they were sexually harassed by guard Michael Zahn and that female guards were used to fetch the women to male guards. In a 1999 report, Zahn admitted to assaulting Chattha. Zahn was fired from CSC and convicted on two charges of official oppression. Plaintiffs sued CSC, Fonville, and Zahn. Plaintiffs argued that CSC was liable because the company had known since 1992 that female prisoners who were alone with male guards were at an increased risk of being sexually abused, and that even though the company's contract with the county prohibited this practice, CSC allowed it to continue. Plaintiffs further contended that even though numerous sexual assaults had taken place at the camp, CSC took no preventative action.

CSC defended claiming that it could do nothing about the contract violation because it was short-staffed; that it was impossible to prevent guards from sneaking around and beating the system; that the company did in fact take preventative measures, i.e. by firing Zahn; and that the alleged sexual assaults were isolated incidents.

After a non-jury trial, the judge held that CSC was negligent, guilty of conscious indifference and malice, liable for the sexual assaults and also criminally liable. Chattha was awarded $900,000 ($400,000 for mental anguish and $500,000 in punitive damages), Fowler was awarded $1,000,000 ($500,000 for mental anguish and $500,000 in punitive damages) and Creek was awarded $900,000 ($400,000 for mental anguish and $500,000 in punitive damages). Total award to plaintiffs: $2,800,000.

Plaintiffs were represented by W. Brice Cottongame and Renee Summers of the Fort Worth, Texas law firm W.Brice Cottongame & Associates and Howard M. Rosenstein of the Fort Worth Law Office of Howard M. Rosenstein. See: Fowler v. Correctional Services Corporation, Tarrant County District Court, 141st, 141-183824-00.

Sources: VerdictSearch. Texas Reporter

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Related legal case

Fowler v. Correctional Services Corporation