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Repeated Oregon Sex Scandals Cost $2 Million and Nine Staff Prosecutions

It is deja vu all over again, and again, and again, as yet another employee at Oregon's only women's prison was arrested for sexually abusing a prisoner, continuing a disturbing trend across the nation that we report on every month. (See e.g. PLN, April 2012, p. 1).

Since the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility (CCCF) opened in 2001, it has been plagued by one sex scandal after another.

In 2004, Lieutenant Jeffrey Allen Barcenas, 42, pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor counts of official misconduct for having sex with prisoner Amanda Durbin in a control room. He was sentenced to 6 months in jail and a five year term of probation. Food Services Coordinator Christopher Don Randall, 41, also pleaded guilty to two counts of official misconduct for having sex with Durbin and one other prisoner, up to five times a week for four months. He was sentenced to 45 days in jail and a five year term of probation. In December 2004, the State paid Durbin $350,000 to settle her lawsuit. (PLN, Nov. 2010, p. 19).

Largely due to that case, in 2005 Oregon enacted a custodial sex abuse law. Custodial Sexual Misconduct in the First Degree (CSM I) makes it a felony for an Oregon corrections employee or contractor to engage in sexual intercourse with a prisoner. All other sexual contact constitutes the misdemeanor offense of Custodial Sexual Misconduct in the Second Degree (CSM II). Prisoners are not subject to prosecution and consent is not a defense because of the power-imbalance between employees and prisoners. Yet, tougher penalties have done nothing to stem the CCCF sexual abuse crisis.

Just five months after Barcenas and Randall pleaded guilty, in 2004, CCCF hired Paul W. Golden, as Physical Plant Grounds Crew Supervisor. He wasted no time following the lead of Barcenas and Randall. Over a fifteen month period beginning in 2006, prison officials investigated Golden three times for misconduct with prisoners. He was cleared each time. Golden's supervisors, maintenance manager Forrest Lyons and Assistant Superintendent Royce Marlin, were also investigated and cleared of sexual misconduct accusations.

When rumors circulated that Golden hired only attractive prisoners, prison officials took over the hiring, but that change was short-lived. Despite all the allegations, Golden was not barred from being alone with prisoners.

Eventually, prison officials took the allegations seriously and as we've previously reported, when the dust settled, Golden, and several other CCCF staff resigned and were prosecuted for sexually abusing "at least" ten CCCF prisoners. (PLN, Nov. 2010, pp. 18-20).

Six victims testified at Golden's trial that he had abused them. A mother of four said Golden forced her to perform oral sex in what prisoner's called the "rape shed." New crew members were forced to let Golden take cellphone photographs of their naked breasts, as a sort of initiation. Others were groped. Two of the victims were women CCCF had cleared Golden of sexually abusing. One testified that he continued to abuse her after he was cleared by prison officials.

In June 2009, Golden was convicted of 23 offenses, including seven counts of CSM I, eight counts of CSM II, sexual abuse and supplying contraband for sexually abusing several prisoners between 2006 and 2008. He was sentenced to 11 1/2 years in prison.

In 2009, CCCF Plumber Kaleo Kai Rick, 40, was convicted of CSM I and delivery of methamphetamine for smuggling drugs to a prisoner for sex. He was sentenced to probation.

Guard Darcy Aaron Macknight was also convicted of CSM I in 2009 for sneaking a female prisoner into a control room for sex and going to her cell and demanding that she expose herself. He was sentenced to probation.

In 2010, Maintenance Worker Troy Bryant Austin, 37, was convicted of CSM I for sexually abusing one prisoner for two years and having sex with another prisoner in the men's intake unit. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

Guard Richard Mitchell was also convicted of sexually abusing a prisoner and was sentenced to probation. Guard Robert Dunlap was not prosecuted because the victim refused to cooperate with investigators.

As a result of the scandal, 17 CCCF sex abuse victims brought state and federal lawsuits against Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) officials. (PLN, July 2009, p. 47; May 2009, p. 1; Nov. 2010, p. 19).

Despite Oregon Attorney General John Kroger's public claims that protecting crime victims is his number one priority, Department of Justice (DOJ) lawyers initially denied every allegation brought by the CCCF victims. They claimed that any harm to the women "was a direct result of their own actions and inactions," including "any failure to report any alleged misconduct."

"You must have done something. You wanted it," one victim described being accused by DOJ lawyers. "They are very aggressive," noted attorney Burt Lathen, who represents several of the 2008 victims. "It's not so much that this didn't happen but 'you should have told us.'

Portland attorney Michelle R. Burrows, who specializes in government misconduct cases and represents four of the victims wrote in a federal court filing that "this case has generated a wall of silence and non-responsiveness from the state." Kroger himself appears to be responsible for that "wall of silence." He recently refused repeated interview requests and while his spokesman, Tony Green, agreed to an interview, he refused to discuss the cases or even say whether DOJ considered the women victims.

In March 2012, the State quietly signed the last agreement to settle the 17 lawsuits for a total of $1.2 million, paying each woman an average of $74,000. The nearly two years of litigation cost DOJ – i.e., Oregon taxpayers – an additional $415,000 in attorney's fees. Of course, the State did not admit any wrongdoing, offending at least one victim with their refusal to apologize. "I came here to pay my consequences, not to become a victim of a crime," one victim said. "I don't feel like they think they did anything wrong."

Even so, prison officials were forced to ask themselves how this could happen. "Boy, that's a good question," testified Lyons, the clueless maintenance manager, during a deposition. "I wish I had an answer to that."

Despite lacking an answer, Lyons remains in his position, even in the wake of the recent arrests of two more CCCF maintenance workers, and the investigation of a third. As we recently reported, on March 21, 2012, CCCF Physical Plant employee Jeremy Joseph Veelle, 35, was arrested for CSM II and official misconduct for sexually abusing one prisoner, according to Oregon State Police (OSP) Spokesman Lt. Gregg Hastings. But, of course, Veelle is not alone. On April 13, 2012, CCCF Physical Plant Maintenance Worker Schawn Jacob Riley, 38, was also arrested for CSM II and first degree official misconduct involving a separate victim, said Hastings. On April 3, 2012, both victims notified the State of their intent to sue.

One would think the numerous criminal convictions and Golden's stiff sentence would get his co-workers' attention. Apparently, however, one would be wrong. Given that Veelle had worked in the physical plant since 1994 and Riley had been there since 2008, they were undoubtedly aware of, but undeterred by, the previous CCCF sexual abuse scandals. "If that's not enough deterrent, I don't know what is," said Brian Belleque, ODOC Westside administrator. "It will happen again."

Following the 2004 and 2008 scandals, former ODOC Director Max Williams called in the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) for "technical assistance" in dealing with staff sexual misconduct. He declared that ODOC has a "zero tolerance policy" and claimed that staff sexual abuse is "an extremely serious issue for us."

Yet, at the end of the day he shrugged his shoulders and said "there isn't any good answer for people who just decide they're going to abandon their commitment to our ethical standards and violate the law."

In truth, the NIC's 28 recommendations to reduce staff sexual abuse likely would have been a "good answer" to start with. Unfortunately, however, only some of those recommendations were implemented, according to ODOC spokeswoman Jeanine Hohn.

In June 2009, CCCF Superintendent Nancy Howton ordered an internal review, which found inadequate security patrols, rooms without windows, too many employees with keys to isolated areas, and a shortage of surveillance cameras.

Howton restricted access to remote areas of the prison and adopted a "Rule of Three" which prohibits entry into some parts of the prison unless three people, a mix of staff and prisoners, are present. Maintenance Specialist Austin saw that rule as a great way to double his pleasure and double his fun, abusing two prisoners at once in a utility tunnel.

In September 2009, Howton asked supervisors for $355,000 to hire a guard to oversee the maintenance area and to upgrade and expand the prison's surveillance system. In January 2010, ODOC officials said they were "considering" the request and that it's approval would be "based on the availability of funds." It wasn't until mid-2011 that ODOC authorized CCCF to buy 10 cameras and begin upgrades, for much less than Howton requested. She renewed her $355,000 request, but it was ignored due to the state's budget deficit. Apparently, prison officials think that money would be better spent settling multi-million dollar lawsuits.

"I feel like I was not protected," one victim testified during a deposition. "Why did nothing ever change?" Burrows believes it is because the abuse is an "institutional theme" that supervisors knew or should have known about, but ignored. "Management's kind of blasé attitude toward it has led to a lot of sexual misconduct," Burrows noted.

Lathen also lays the blame at management's feet. "The lack of supervision, lack of training has given these people an arena where they can commit these assaults," Lathen observed.

In 2008, then-ODOC Director Williams disagreed. "The unfortunate part about a story like this is it's somewhat titillating, given the subject matter and it's given a lot of attention," said Williams. "Then for a lot of people it begins to define what they think prison is really about, when in fact it's a very limited number of inmates and a very limited number of staff" Colette Peters, who was appointed as ODOC Director in February 2012, seems to disagree. "This is an issue across the system – not just at Coffee Creek," she warned.

"It really now is an epidemic", said Lathen in 2008. "The whole culture there at the facility is one that needs to be changed." Williams disagreed. "No, I don't think it's an epidemic of abuse," he said.

"We put as many checks and balances in place as we can," added Peters. "Unfortunately, there were still areas these activities occurred and boundaries that were still crossed." She says she wants to change the culture of the prison so victims are more willing to report staff misconduct. "The code of silence is an issue," admits Peters.

She also reports that system wide training is being modified to encourage employees to seek help and for supervisors to recognize abuse red flags. "With hindsight, we see triggers, things that have happened in staff members' lives: financial trouble, marriage trouble, the loss of a loved one," said Peters.

If the sexual abuse crisis wasn't an epidemic in 2004 or 2008, it certainly appears to be in 2012. "You need to clean house," said Lathen. "It's one thing if it was a case involving one inmate. You've got a serious problem here, an epidemic." Hopefully Director Peters will recognize it as such and take meaningful steps to protect prisoners from predatory staff.

On a positive, if not ironic, note on April 5, 2012, the Washington County Department of Health and Human Services recognized CCCF for its efforts to improve the health of pregnant prisoners during incarceration. Now, CCCF prisoners who join the prison's Early Head Start program can breastfeed their infants several times a week when they are together in the program.

Sources: The Oregonian, Statesman Journal

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