Despite reports of rampant staff sexual abuse and harassment of women incarcerated at Kansas’ Topeka Correctional Facility (TCF), it was not until one prisoner had an abortion after being raped by a vocational instructor that the mainstream media took notice.
Between 2005 and 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice documented 39 reports of sexual misconduct or harassment by prison employees at TCF. State officials disagreed. They found 31 of the reports unsubstantiated and three unfounded; two had been substantiated and two others were under investigation.
One of the substantiated cases involved a determination there was a 99.99 percent probability that TCF plumbing instructor Anastacio “Ted” Gallardo had impregnated prisoner Tracy Keith, who later had an abortion.
An investigation by the Topeka Capital-Journal revealed that Gallardo viewed the vocational students in his class as his own personal harem. “[A] candy store, so to speak,” said Kenneth Maggard, a former TCF heating and air conditioning supervisor. Maggard had himself been accused of smuggling contraband into the facility; the charges were dropped but he was still fired.
Gallardo had an arrangement to provide cash for oral sex with Keith. She was already aware that Gallardo had an ongoing deal to provide tobacco and food to other prisoners in exchange for sexual favors.
Since Keith didn’t smoke or want to sell tobacco on the prison’s black market, her interest was in obtaining money. The day after prisoner Sandra McMillan approached Keith on Gallardo’s behalf, Keith agreed to perform oral sex in exchange for Gallardo putting funds into her prison account.
“I’m broke,” Keith said. “I have no family talking to me. My ex-husband won’t let me talk with my son.” Figuring she could supplement her $14-a-month prison pay and get away with the sexual encounters because Gallardo had free run of the facility, it seemed like a no-lose situation. “It was going to be easy money,” said Keith.
After lunch on October 2, 2007, Gallardo took Keith and McMillan in a prison work vehicle to TCF’s old two-story gym. The building was convenient because it was not only outside the perimeter fence, it was used as a storage facility.
As McMillan stood guard, Keith began to fulfill her part of the deal. However, Gallardo insisted on going further by having intercourse, and Keith refused. “My exact words were, ‘Ted, I don’t think that this is a good idea,’” she said. “That’s a no.”
Gallardo, who was 6’2” and 300 pounds, had other intentions. He pulled Keith upright and then pulled down her pants. It was over quickly. About two weeks later, Keith realized the sex really hadn’t been a good idea. She knew she was pregnant.
Gallardo’s reaction was to try to terminate the pregnancy without alerting prison officials. He smuggled in a morning-after pill, but it failed to work. He then sought out a contact in Mexico and a TCF prisoner who claimed to traffic pharmaceuticals for Bernard Megaffin, a registered sex offender who had been stripped of his medical license, to obtain the highly-regulated RU 486 abortion pill.
After attempts to obtain the drug failed, Gallardo had another prisoner stomp on Keith’s stomach in an effort to induce an abortion. A week after Halloween in 2007, Gallardo stopped showing up for work at TCF.
Things began to unravel after prisoner Shari Bierman, a jilted former lover of Gallardo, sent in a “Form 9” that stated, “Give Tracy Keith a pregnancy test. It’s Ted Gallardo’s.”
Knowing that her pregnancy would eventually be discovered, Keith cooperated with prison officials when she was confronted. She considered an open adoption, but with two years left on her sentence and little family support, the state would sever her parental rights. “I was really scared that I was going to get into trouble and do more time,” she said. Keith didn’t learn about a Topeka woman’s inquiry about adopting the child until after prison officials took her to an abortion clinic in December 2007. A local group of women paid for the abortion.
While Keith hinted she had been told that other prisoners involved with Gallardo could avoid problems if her pregnancy disappeared, she said the “difficult and painful decision” to have an abortion fell on her alone. Still, other prisoners ostracized her. “I was called a baby killer,” Keith stated. “They said I was a snitch for telling the truth. They tried to jump me. It was hell.”
On June 19, 2008, Gallardo pleaded guilty to two contraband charges and one count of unlawful sexual conduct. A charge of rape had been dropped. He was sentenced to two years probation and ordered to register as a sex offender; the plea stipulated that he was immune from charges of “sexual conduct with the other inmate witnesses.” Gallardo had been “sexually active” with McMillan and prisoner Veronica Spangler, and allegedly was intimate with Shari Bierman; three other prisoners were also listed as possibly being involved with Gallardo.
“I was sent to prison for what I did,” said Keith. “Ted Gallardo raped me. I would expect him to serve time for that crime. He didn’t.” In fact, at the time, the offense of smuggling contraband into prison was more severe than if a prison staff member had sex with a prisoner.
Personal relationships between TCF prisoners and employees were not unusual. Civil Board summaries reviewed by the Topeka Capital-Journal revealed numerous such relationships, and the newspaper reported that up to one-third of TCF’s 250 staff members may have been involved in contraband-for-sex arrangements.
In January 2009, a TCF activities specialist was fired for kissing or biting a prisoner’s hand, allowing lewd behavior to occur between two prisoners, and delivering fist bumps while socializing with prisoners.
A TCF corporal was dismissed in 2006 after allowing a prisoner to call him at home 17 times for up to 30 minutes each. A sergeant was fired in 2003 for engaging in undue familiarity despite being warned three times to stay away from the prisoner he was seeing. Also in 2003, a TCF storekeeper specialist was terminated after a series of suspensions that included one for taking “inappropriate” pictures of prisoners.
Former TCF prisoner Heather Morales said that after a guard swatted her bottom in 2004, things continued to escalate. “Future incidents were in my room,” she remarked. “I would be sleeping and he, you know, would feel on me. I was shocked at first but I let him. He’s a guard.”
Another prisoner informed prison officials of the situation. The guard resigned and Morales was sent to segregation for 72 days. In 2005, another guard stopped in an isolated parking lot while transporting Morales to work in a state vehicle. “We had sex,” she said. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Such situations seem to be the norm at TCF. “I managed to get pretty much anything into that facility that you could think of through guards or drop-offs along the fence,” stated Kendra Barnes, who served nine years at TCF before being paroled in 2008. “Sex for drugs? Sure.”
“No one in the Department of Corrections believes this is appropriate. We are aggressive in trying to root out this kind of behavior,” stated Kansas Secretary of Corrections Roger Werholtz.
At least one prison employee disagreed. TCF officer Richard Short, a union leader at the facility, said some guards were “held hostage” by prisoners who made false claims of sexual misconduct and by resultant investigations by prison officials. Short had been suspended three times for violating policy by being “unduly familiar” with prisoners.
The U.S. Department of Justice conducted a national survey of sexual victimization in state and federal prisons in 2007, based on self-reported data from prisoners at 146 correctional facilities nationwide. TCF was not one of the facilities surveyed.
While prison employees like Gallardo often claim the sex was consensual after being caught in an intimate relationship with a prisoner, prisoner advocates say the power differential that exists between staff and prisoners makes truly consensual sex impossible. “At Just Detention International [formerly Stop Prisoner Rape], we consider any sexual activity between staff and inmates to be sexual abuse,” said Louisa Stannow, the organization’s executive director. All 50 states have criminalized sex between prisoners and prison employees.
“No one in our corrections system – whether it’s an employee or inmate – should ever be exploited or abused,” said Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson. “We must ensure that the policies we have in place are working and that when people do not follow these policies, they are appropriately dealt with.”
Kansas prison officials dutifully took action – by moving quickly to file an ethics complaint against an attorney who had helped document sexual misconduct at TCF. Department of Corrections officials argued that attorney Keen Umbehr misrepresented Capital-Journal reporter Tim Carpenter when they visited TCF to interview two prisoners in August 2009. Umbehr denied that he had misrepresented Carpenter’s identity, and said he was targeted for retaliation because he helped “uncover a terrible human rights abuse.”
The ethics complaint was filed 58 days after the prison visit but only two days after the Capital-Journal published an article about sexual abuse at TCF. While prison officials alleged that Umbehr had referred to Carpenter as an “attorney at law” on the visitation log, Umbehr noted the handwriting didn’t match his and that his name on the log was misspelled. “I know how to spell my own name,” he observed.
Apparently, the solution to preventing improper sexual relationships at TCF was to close the vocational plumbing and heating and air conditioning classes, which is just what prison officials did. Additionally, TCF warden Richard Koerner was reassigned on January 15, 2010, hours after the release of a National Institute of Corrections report that recommended policy changes at the facility to address the problem of sexual misconduct involving prison staff. Among other things, the report suggested clearer rules related to staff-prisoner relationships (presumably “don’t have sex with prisoners”), and a better grievance process that prisoners feel they can use without risking retaliation.
The Kansas state legislature is also studying the issue. “Part of the important information we need to have is how extensive the problem is,” said Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt. For Keith and other women prisoners who have been raped or sexually abused by prison staff, the problem is extensive indeed.
Sources: Topeka Capital-Journal, Associated Press, www.hdnews.net, www.kake.com
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