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Former Utah Prison Guard Ordered to Pay Over $1.4 Million for Raping Prisoner

U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups, in a February 2010 decision, ordered former Utah State Prison guard Louis Poleate to pay $435,332.50 in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages to prisoner Priscilla Chavez for a rape that occurred in September 2001. Poleate had already served five years in prison on a third-degree custodial sexual relations charge for raping Chavez, who was 18 at the time.

Chavez’s lawsuit alleged that while she was incarcerated at Utah State Prison, Poleate removed her from her cell after telling her they were going to the infirmary. Instead, “Poleate took her to a secluded gatehouse, which was not under surveillance by prison officials ... and viciously raped Ms. Chavez over a period lasting an hour and a half ... [while] her hands and feet were in shackles.”

The district court found “... that several considerations unique to this case properly factor into consideration of non-economic damages. First is Ms. Chavez’s age at the time of the incident. In addition to her mental health issues, her young age made her particularly vulnerable to abuse by an unscrupulous guard. It [is] also tragic that Ms. Chavez’s first experience with sexual intercourse would be a violent rape. Further, Ms. Chavez was shackled during the rape, further compounding her feelings of helplessness and despair. Moreover, Ms. Chavez was in prison for assaulting a guard, which made her even less likely to fight back.”

Judge Waddoups noted that the suit was filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which “creates a species of tort liability in favor of persons who are deprived of rights, privileges, or immunities secured to them by the Constitution.” The judge analogized the case to another lawsuit in federal court in Colorado, Hall v. Terrel, U.S.D.C. (D. Col.), Case No. 08-cv-00999-DME-MEH, which also involved the brutal rape of a female prisoner by a male guard (and resulted in a $1.55 million damage award). [See: PLN, Nov. 2009, p.12]. Like Poleate, the guard in the Colorado case, Leshawn Terrel, was “allowed to plea to less serious criminal charges.”

According to her lawsuit, Chavez had exhausted her available administrative remedies prior to filing suit by submitting multiple grievances pursuant to the prison’s grievance procedure, all of which were either disregarded, ignored or used for retaliatory purposes by prison officials. Chavez claimed that other guards retaliated against her by spilling bleach in her cell and spraying her sheets with chemicals.

“If there is any accuracy to [Chavez’s] descriptions of having guards retaliate against her after Mr. Poleate was punished for raping her, those guards will also be given something to think about with this damage award,” Judge Waddoups stated.

Randy Phillips, Chavez’s attorney, said he was satisfied with the judgment, which was obtained after Poleate represented himself and called the lawsuit “frivolous.” It was unclear whether Poleate has any assets that can be used to satisfy the $1.4 million damage award; although his exact address is unknown, he is reportedly living in Wisconsin and is listed on the national sex offender registry. See: Chavez v. Poleate, U.S.D.C. (D. Utah), Case No. 2:04-cv-01104-CW.

Additional sources: Salt Lake City Standard-Examiner,, Deseret News

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Related legal case

Chavez v. Poleate