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Ohio Settles Suit Over Sexual Assault of Prisoner for $525,000

by Matt Clarke

In November 2017, Ohio state officials agreed to pay $525,000 to settle a lawsuit over the repeated sexual assault of a female prisoner.

Chesterland, Ohio attorney David B. Malik represented Dorothea Reynolds, who was incarcerated at the Ohio Reformatory for Women (ORW) in 2008 and 2009. He assisted Reynolds in filing a § 1983 federal civil rights action against prison officials, alleging guard Robert W. Smith sexually assaulted her three times by forcing her to perform oral sex.

According to the complaint, Smith brought Reynolds cigarettes and eventually demanded, then forced, sexual contact in exchange for the smokes. Smith’s actions reportedly came to light when guards discovered a letter from Reynolds to Smith that referenced the cigarettes and sexual encounters.

The complaint claimed ORW had been aware of Smith’s sexual contact with women since 2001 and had received complaints from at least seven other ORW prisoners. That knowledge was allegedly widespread among supervisors and investigative staff at ORW, who apparently attempted to keep the investigation “in house” without referring it to the Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP), which independently investigates such claims.

While prison officials were investigating Reynolds’ allegations about Smith, she said he continued to sexually assault her and even told her he knew who she had been talking to. She also was allegedly threatened by another guard for telling prison officials about Smith, and told to keep her mouth shut.

While being screened for a transfer to another prison, Reynolds told a sergeant who notified the OSHP, which opened an investigation. During the course of the ORW and OSHP investigations, Reynolds and other prisoners passed multiple polygraph examinations. Smith refused to submit to a polygraph test.

Smith was not charged with a crime; he was fired, but reinstated with the stipulation that he could not work around female prisoners. He was then assigned to a men’s prison.

“This woman did this incredible thing,” said Malik. “She essentially kept alive her desire to fight a wrong when she could easily have quit – and the AG’s office did not make it easy on her over the last six years – but she persisted and she came out victorious in the end.” See: Reynolds v. Smith, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Ohio), Case No. 2:11-cv-00277-ALM-KAJ. 

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Related legal case

Reynolds v. Smith