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Tenth Circuit Reverses Qualified Immunity for Prisoner’s Rape, Affirms for One Jailer

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit dismissed the interlocutory appeal of a sheriff and jailer who were denied qualified immunity for the rape of a mentally ill female prisoner. It also reversed the denial of qualified immunity for another jail guard.

Aleshia C. Henderson was booked into the David L. Moss Justice Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 3, 2011. She was designated a mentally ill special needs prisoner.

Guards Dalean Lynn Johnson and Michael Thomas were working in the jail’s medical unit when Henderson was brought there on September 27, 2011 due to chest pains.

Henderson was left handcuffed and shackled in a holding cell called the “tub room.” Two unrestrained male prisoners, Williams and Johnson, were seated just outside the room.

The tub room door was initially locked, consistent with jail policy. Assuming the nurse was ready to see Henderson, guard Johnson unlocked the door some time later. She then walked away, despite knowing that prisoner Johnson was unrestrained and had watched her unlock the tub room.

Jail staff responded to a medical emergency in another area of the facility, leaving the prisoners alone in the medical unit. Prisoner Johnson told Williams he was going to have sex with Henderson and entered the unlocked tub room.

Guards witnessed Johnson exiting the tub room about ten minutes later. Guard Johnson questioned Henderson, who said “yes” when asked, “did he touch your crotch?”

Henderson was taken to a hospital, where an examination revealed bruising, swelling and some mid-line tearing of her vagina that was consistent with forced intercourse. Prisoner Johnson was charged with rape but the charges were later dismissed because Henderson briefly recanted.

An investigation by the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO) found that guards Thomas and Johnson had violated jail policy.

Henderson filed suit in federal court, alleging that jail staff had been deliberately indifferent to a substantial risk of sexual assault in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The defendants moved for summary judgment, raising a defense of qualified immunity.

Henderson presented substantial evidence of previous sexual misconduct in the jail’s medical unit. In 2010, two female prisoners were sexually assaulted by guard Seth Bowers, who resigned and was prosecuted. The investigation also revealed that a nurse had sexually assaulted a prisoner, a therapist subjected females to inappropriate conduct and another nurse had a sexual relationship with a male prisoner.

“There were a lot of reported cases of the nurses having sex in the back medical room,” reported TCSO officer Cherry Anjorin. “So there were inmates coming out of the rooms, the back rooms, with nurses, and, of course, that’s why I say a lot of nurses were fired.”

The district court denied summary judgment, finding that factual disputes precluded qualified immunity. The defendants appealed.

The Tenth Circuit concluded that then-Sheriff Stanley Glanz and Johnson were challenging the district court’s factual determinations and, therefore, it lacked jurisdiction to hear their interlocutory appeals.

The appellate court concluded, however, that it had jurisdiction to hear Thomas’ appeal and reversed. “Ms. Henderson has provided no authority clearly establishing that an officer violates the Eighth Amendment when that officer, as here with ... Thomas, has no subjective knowledge of risk of assault to an inmate, leaves to attend to a medical emergency, and does so believing the inmate is in a locked room under the guard of another officer,” the Court of Appeals wrote. “Because Ms. Henderson has not carried her burden to show violation of a clearly established constitutional right, the district court erred in denying ... Thomas qualified immunity.” The case remains pending on remand, with a trial scheduled for April 17, 2017. See: Henderson v. Glanz, 813 F.3d 938 (10th Cir. 2015).

In an unrelated development, Sheriff Glanz, 73, who resigned in November 2015, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge and no contest to another in July 2016. One charge related to Glanz’s failure to release a report on an internal investigation into a former reserve deputy who fatally shot a suspect by mistake, despite requests from the news media. The other charge, for willful violation of the law, claimed Glanz had “regularly” used county vehicles despite receiving a $600 monthly stipend to use his own personal vehicle for official business. He received a one-year suspended sentence plus one year on unsupervised probation, and was ordered to pay $7,500 in restitution. 

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Related legal case

Henderson v. Glanz