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$1.4 Million Settlement in Three-Day Long Sexual Assaults of Alaska Prisoners

$1.4 Million Settlement in Three-Day Long Sexual Assaults of Alaska Prisoners

by David M. Reutter

Two male Alaska prisoners who were sexually assaulted by other prisoners have reached a $1.4 million settlement in a lawsuit filed against prison officials. The incident occurred at the Yukon Kuskokwin Correctional Center in September 2006.

The sexual assaults took place in a 10-man dorm over a period of three days. At least three other prisoners abused the two victims, who have not been publicly identified. One victim, who was in his 20s, had his eyebrows ripped off; he was kicked, beaten and sexually assaulted with a toilet plunger, according to his attorney, Sean Brown. The injuries of the second male victim, who was developmentally disabled, were not revealed. Both victims were so traumatized they couldn’t talk about the incident.

“As soon as the inmates reported the assaults, Department of Corrections’ staff at the facility took immediate and appropriate action,” prison officials said in a written statement. Yet the Alaska State Police, which investigates crimes that occur inside prisons, was not alerted until the youngest victim’s family retained Sean Brown to represent him in his criminal case. Brown contacted state troopers after he spoke with his client.

“But of course, the harm had already been done by then,” said Brown. The two victims were moved to protective custody and guards began making more frequent rounds. Since the incident, cameras have been installed to monitor the dorms.

Why someone in authority did not notice what was happening, especially after the younger victim had his eyebrows ripped off, left Brown concerned about the guards’ failure to protect vulnerable prisoners. “It’s harm that could have been so easily prevented and it wasn’t,” he said.

Two of the prisoners who participated in the physical and sexual abuse pleaded no contest to first degree assault. Raymond Tinker, 27, and William Wassillie, 25, were sentenced in May 2008 to twenty years flat time. A second degree assault charge is pending against a third prisoner, Steven Lewis, 23, who was also named as a defendant in the criminal prosecution.

The two victims have since been released from prison. The younger victim’s felony sexual assault charge was reduced to a misdemeanor, while the other resolved his misdemeanor charge. The December 2008 settlement reached in their lawsuit does not disclose how much each will receive, but the $1.4 million total includes attorney fees. See: Doe v. Alaska Dept. of Corrections, 4th Judicial District (Alaska), Case No. 4BE-07-00027CI.

Incidents of this nature are not new for Alaska prisons. Brown said he has settled two other suits involving physical abuse of prisoners and has a third lawsuit pending that alleges a guard sexually assaulted a female prisoner.

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Related legal case

Doe v. Alaska Dept. of Corrections