In November 2016, Jefferson County, Montana agreed to pay $125,000 to settle a civil rights lawsuit filed by a prisoner who was allegedly raped in the county jail.
Audemio Orozco-Ramirez was being held on immigration charges when he claimed he was sexually assaulted in October 2013. Due to his poor English skills, he was unable to report the assault until he was transferred to an Idaho facility two days later. There, a Spanish-speaking booking officer took his first statement regarding the incident.
Aided by Helena attorney Shahid Haque-Hausrath, Orozco-Ramirez filed a federal civil rights action alleging that jail officials failed to comply with the standards of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), and that the rape would not have occurred had the standards been followed. Security video footage of the jail cell was missing over three hours, the time during which Orozco-Ramirez said he had been attacked and raped. Later, some footage surfaced to fill in several of the gaps.
Orozco-Ramirez had been placed in a jail pod along with nine other prisoners, five of whom were taking orders from a sixth, and two of whom were violent sex offenders. He allegedly awoke to being smothered and sexually assaulted, and attempted to resist the attack until he lost consciousness.
On July 22, 2015, Jefferson County Attorney Matt Johnson held a news conference to announce the Sheriff’s Department had determined there was no evidence a rape took place. He said a Department of Homeland Security investigation came to the same conclusion. The news conference occurred 18 months after the alleged incident and one week after Oroczo-Ramirez filed his federal civil rights lawsuit.
Despite the lack of investigatory findings, a $125,000 settlement was reached in the suit in November 2016 and announced the following month.
“The amount of the settlement reflects the merits of the lawsuit and the seriousness of the county’s failure to protect Mr. Oroczo-Ramirez when he was sexually assaulted in their custody,” said Haque-Hausrath.
Previously, Rodney Mortimore, a former Jefferson County jail guard, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in April 2015 for raping three female prisoners. The county agreed to settle with one of the women for $500,000. [See: PLN, Nov. 2015, p.63].
Orozco-Ramirez is subject to deportation, but his attorneys were trying to get him a special visa granted to crime victims who cooperate in law enforcement investigations, which would allow him to remain in the United States. See: Orozco-Ramirez v. Jefferson County, U.S.D.C. (D. Mont.), Case No. 6:15-cv-00062-CCL.
Sources: Associated Press, www.billingsgazette.com, www.krtv.com, www.mystandard.com
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Related legal case
Orozco-Ramirez v. Jefferson County
|Cite||U.S.D.C. (D. Mont.), Case No. 6:15-cv-00062-CCL|