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CCA May Be Liable For Guard Captain's Sexual Assault Of Louisiana Prisoner

by Matt Clarke

On March 15, 2007, a federal court in Louisiana held that the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) may be liable for the sexual assault of a prisoner by a CCA captain at a CCA-run prison in Louisiana.

Brian B. Mitchell, a Louisiana state prisoner, was incarcerated at the Winn Correctional Facility in Winnfield, Louisiana--a CCA-run private prison--when he was twice sexually assaulted by Charlie Roberts, a CCA employee. Following the first sexual assault, which occurred while Roberts was a lieutenant shortly before his promotion to captain, Mitchell complained to the warden. Instead of investigating the complaint, the warden told Mitchell that if he ever lied about one of his captains again, he would be receive a transfer to a worse prison. The second sexual assault occurred four months later. In that sexual assault, Mitchell was forced to perform oral sex on Roberts following a urine drug test.
Even though the urine test was clean, Roberts threatened to lock up Mitchell for having a dirty urine test if Mitchell refused to perform oral sex on him. Mitchell complied, but spat the semen out onto his t-shirt and contacted the FBI.

DNA testing showed that the semen belonged to Roberts. He was subsequently convicted on federal charges of Deprivation of Rights and False Statements and sentenced to 72-months in prison.

Mitchell filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights suit in federal district court naming CCA and Richard Stalder, Louisiana Secretary of Corrections, as defendants. CCA and Stalder filed motions for summary judgment.

The court ruled that Stalder was not liable for failing to implement policies to protect prisoners from sexual assault because the CCA policies were adequate in that regard. Furthermore, Mitchell failed to affirmatively link actions or inactions of Stalder to the commission of the sexual assault. Furthermore, Stalder was not liable under state law because Roberts was an employee of CCA, not the Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

Mitchell alleged CCA has a custom of ignoring prisoners' complaints about their employees. To support this, he submitted his interview with the FBI shortly after the second sexual assault which noted that Mitchell had complained to the warden and been threatened for his efforts. Although CCA challenged that section of the report, this merely meant that there was a disputed factual issue and summary judgment was inappropriate on that issue. Because the warden had policy-making authority, CCA could be held liable for the creation and enforcement of such a policy or custom.

CCA could also be held liable under state law because a heightened level of liability is present when the person committing the tort has a great amount of control and authority over the victim. In this case, Roberts had unfettered control and authority over Mitchell. Therefore, even though the sexual assaults were not authorized by CCA, they were reasonably incidental to the performance of official duties to make CCA potentially liable. Furthermore, since Roberts used his official capacity to order Mitchell to the bathroom where the second sexual assault took place, his actions were so closely connected to his employment duties that the risk of harm faced by the victim was fairly attributable to CCA. Therefore, there was at a minimum a genuine issue of material fact over whether CCA could be held vicariously liable for the actions of Roberts and summary judgment should be denied.

Summary judgment was granted for Stalder and denied for CCA. See: Mitchell v. CCA of Tennessee, 2007 U.S.Dist. LEXIS 18271, U.S.D.C.-W.D.LA, No. 04-1031-A.

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Related legal case

Mitchell v. CCA of Tennessee