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$330,000 Settles Guard-on-Prisoner Sexual Assault Claims

by Christopher Zoukis

The Bureau of Prisons agreed to pay four female prisoners an aggregate total of $330,000.00 in order to settle claims that they were all subjected to sexual abuse at the hands of prison guard Johnsie Donaldson. All four women agreed to settle their claims against the Bureau of Prisons officials, but not against Donaldson.

Shanell Stewart, Mary Payne, Herlinda Arroyo-De Hernandez, and Carol Birdsong were prisoners at Federal Correctional Institution Dublin, California between October 30, 2000 and December 31, 2001. According to the complaint, filed in federal District Court, they were all “sexually assaulted physically, verbally and sexually abused and harassed, [and] subjected to repeated invasions of privacy, threats, retaliation and harassment when they complained about the abuse.”

The four women collectively sued Kathleen Hawk-Sawyer, the former director of the Bureau of Prisons; Robert M. Haro, regional director for the western region; Michael Benov, warden of FCI Dublin; Paul Schultz, former warden of FCI Dublin; Dr. Stephen Formanski, mental health worker at FCI Dublin; and Johnsie Donaldson, prison guard at FCI Dublin and alleged assailant.

The women alleged that on multiple occasions, Donaldson forced himself on them, demanded oral sex, and threatened them with violence. Moreover, they alleged that the other defendants “were aware of complaints by women prisoners against officers, and Defendant Donaldson in particular” but did nothing to prevent them, violating their duty of due care.

The four victims alleged multiple violations of their rights, including violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment; deliberate indifference to their security interests, in violation of the Eighth Amendment; violation of their Fifth Amendment right to equal protection; violation of their Fourth Amendment right to privacy; and violation of their Fifth Amendment right to privacy. They demanded compensatory and punitive damages, injunctive relief, and payment of their attorney’s fees and costs.

Approximately two and a half years after filing suit, the women settled. Mary Payne agreed to accept $15,000 in full satisfaction of her claims against everyone except Johnsie Donaldson, Shanell Stewart agreed to accept $15,000 in full satisfaction of her claims against everyone except Donaldson, Carol Birdsong agreed to accept $85,000 in the same manner, and Herlinda Arroyo-De Hernandez agreed to accept $215,000, while also retaining her claims against Donaldson. The case was settled and dismissed in March 2006.

The Bureau of Prisons did not admit any liability or wrongdoing. The plaintiffs were represented by San Francisco, California attorney Geri Lynn Green.

The documents were obtained by Prison Legal News after prevailing in a 12-year court battle with the Bureau of Prisons over a Freedom of Information Act records request.

See: Stewart v. Sawyer, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 3:01-cv-04058-MJJ.


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Related legal case

Stewart v. Sawyer