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$1.55 Million Awarded in Female Colorado DOC Prisoner’s Rape by Guard

On February 3, 2009, default judgment was entered in a lawsuit filed against a Colorado prison guard who had raped and sodomized a female prisoner. Afterwards, several other individual defendants and the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) agreed to settle the prisoner’s suit for $250,000, including attorney’s fees. The rapist guard was later ordered to pay $1.3 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

Colorado prisoner Amanda Hall worked in the kitchen at the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility under the supervision of CDOC Sergeant Leshawn Terrell. “Beginning in or about May of 2006 and continuing until October 7, 2006, and despite Hall’s protests that she did not want to have sex with him, Terrell coerced Hall into having a sexual relationship,” U.S. District Court Judge David Ebel found. Terrell made Hall a “virtual sex slave,” repeatedly sexually abusing her in ex-change for coffee, stamps and money.

“On or about October 7, 2006, Terrell became violent and angry when Hall said she did not want to have sex with him,” the court stated. “He forced her to perform oral sex and then anally raped her. The anal rape was sufficiently violent to tear Hall’s rectum,” which caused her to lose “control of her bowel functions.” She required surgery for her injuries. “She’s been assaulted in ways that are so inhumane and so offensive we can’t talk about them on TV,” said Mari New-man, Hall’s attorney.

Before he raped Hall, Terrell had “coercive and violent sexual relationships” with other prisoners, the court observed. Newman agreed that Hall was not alone. “What I’ve learned after the filing, I’ve got many, many e-mails about other similar cases, and this is a problem system-wide in the Colorado Department of Corrections,” she said.

Indeed, according to a September 6, 2009 Denver Post article, from 2005 to 2007 the CDOC had 62 confirmed cases of sexual misconduct by prison employees or private contractors. In one case, a prison commissary worker posted pictures of the prisoner she was having a sexual relationship with on her MySpace page. In another, a prisoner at the CCA-operated Kit Carson Correctional Center had sex with a female guard and kept a nude photo of her in his cell. The Post article noted that prosecutions of sexually abusive prison staff were difficult, and few convictions resulted in jail time.

Terrell was prosecuted for sexually abusing Hall; on October 28, 2008, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of unlawful sexual contact and received a 60-day jail sentence plus five years probation. [See: PLN, May 2009, p.1]. Prosecutors defended the plea bargain, saying they faced “credibility problems” with Hall since she was a prisoner. Others were not pleased with Terrell’s light punishment, including Newman. “This was a case in which a guard was essentially treating female inmates, including my client, as playthings for his own sexual gratification,” she said.

When entering default judgment against Terrell, Judge Ebel found that “there is no question that Terrell’s sexual assault of Hall was carried out solely to cause harm, and thus that Terrell violated Hall’s Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.” Turning to Hall’s substantive due process claim, which alleged an invasion of bodily integrity, the district court observed that it had to assess “whether the infringement ... was ‘narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest,’” an inquiry that “rings hollow in the context of rape, for which there is no imaginable ‘compelling state interest.’” The court concluded that “under the fundamental rights analysis, Hall has demonstrated a substantive due process violation.” Additionally, Hall had shown a substantive due process violation under the “shocks-the-conscience analysis.”

The state defendants, including the CDOC, agreed to settle the case in February 2009, paying Hall a lump sum of $30,000 and an annuity of $131,250.28 to be disbursed over a four-year period. They also paid Hall’s attorney’s fees of $88,749.72, for a total of $250,000.

While the state defendants did not admit wrongdoing, they agreed to let Hall’s attorney review and propose improvements to the CDOC’s Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) training, and to install additional security cameras in the kitchen area where Hall was raped. Further, prison officials emphasized that as part of a zero-tolerance policy for staff-prisoner relationships, “CDOC employees must mandatorily report any information regarding CDOC employee-on-inmate sexual contact. A CDOC employee’s failure to make such a mandatory report leads to a disciplinary action up to and including termination.”

Following the district court’s entry of default judgment against Terrell, a bench trial on damages was held on April 20, 2009. The court issued an opinion and order on June 10, 2009, stating that Hall’s “right to be safe from sexual assault and rape by one of her guards turned out to be worth no more than the paper upon which [the CDOC’s policy prohibiting sexual misconduct] was printed.” Judge Ebel criticized the light sentence in Terrell’s criminal case, and also noted that Hall did not receive adequate medical care from prison staff for her physical injuries that resulted from being raped, including anal bleeding and a torn rectum, until after she filed suit.

The district court issued a judgment against Terrell in the amount of $354,070.41 in compensatory damages and medical costs, plus $1 million in punitive damages. The court later assessed an additional $1,898.41 in expenses and $84,261.03 in attorney fees. Since Terrell had resigned from the CDOC and was not represented or indemnified by the state, however, it is unlikely that Hall will be able to collect much – if any – of the judgment entered against him.

PLN assisted Hall’s counsel in this case by providing verdict and settlement information from other lawsuits involving sexual assaults against prisoners, for damages valuation purposes. Further, PLN’s May 2009 cover story, “Sexual Abuse by Prison and Jail Staff Proves Persistent, Pandemic,” was submitted to the court as an exhibit to Hall’s supplemental post trial brief. See: Hall v. Zavaras, U.S.D.C. (D. Col.), Case No. 08-CV-00999-DME-MEH.

Additional sources: The Denver Post, Associated Press

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Related legal case

Hall v. Zavaras

Please see the brief bank for documents related to this case.