by Dale Chappell
A federal court in Nebraska awarded an ex-prisoner over $1 million in a lawsuit against a former guard who was convicted of sexually assaulting her and other women at the Phelps County jail in June 2012.
While being held at the jail for allegedly writing bad checks, Ronda L. Marsh said in her complaint that guard Louis P. Campana, Jr. repeatedly sexually assaulted her and at least five other women in June 2012. The suit also pointed to other incidents of sexual misconduct by Campana that jail officials knew about but ignored, allowing him to continue working with female prisoners.
In July 2012, the Nebraska State Patrol investigated a complaint that Campana was sexually abusing prisoners. He was placed on leave and the investigation concluded he had sexually assaulted at least five women, including Marsh.
Campana had direct access to prisoners’ cells without going through the control room, the investigators found, and he also had access to areas not monitored by security cameras. Marsh said Campana would take her to an area out of view of any cameras to perform sexual acts.
She stated in her lawsuit that she “felt she had to allow Defendant Campana to go along with his sexually touching her,” because he was “more in charge” at the jail. Investigators found that Campana would give female prisoners candy and other treats and then expect sexual favors in return.
Following discovery, the district court granted summary judgment to defendants Phelps County, Sheriff Gene Samuelson, Lt. Penny Gregg and Campana in their official capacities, and Marsh appealed. The Eighth Circuit found there was no actual notice of any pattern of Campana’s misconduct around female prisoners, and that he was promptly suspended and investigated when his sexual abuse become apparent.
The investigation was turned over to the State Patrol and culminated in Campana’s prosecution for felony criminal sexual conduct. The appellate court declined to hold Samuelson, Gregg and the county liable for Campana’s actions, finding they were entitled to qualified immunity. Marsh’s claims were allowed to proceed against Campana in his individual capacity. See: Marsh v. Phelps County, 902 F.3d 745 (8th Cir. 2018).
Campana was charged with eight counts of sexual assault and agreed to plead guilty to two counts. He was sentenced to 20 months to four years in prison, and released in 2015. He is required to register as a sex offender.
Marsh’s complaint argued that Campana had “misused and abused the official power granted him by the state” and “engaged in deliberate and outrageous invasion of [her] bodily integrity” in violation of her rights under the Eighth Amendment.
The district court said it found Marsh’s testimony and evidence “compelling,” and noted that she “was afraid to tell anyone in the jail” about the sexual abuse “because she had no idea who she could trust.” The court added that Marsh felt jail officials would not take her seriously, so she waited until she was released before speaking out.
“All too often the victims of sexual abuse such as Marsh do not come forward immediately, and that delay in reporting is then used to infer either a lack of credibility, or worse yet, that what the victim experienced wasn’t all that bad,” the court wrote.
On September 27, 2018, the district court held that Marsh was entitled to $810,000 in compensatory damages plus $250,000 in punitive damages against Campana in his individual capacity for his “purposeful, deliberate, and intentional violation” of her constitutional rights. Marsh was represented by attorney Joy A. Shiffermiller. See: Marsh v. Campana, U.S.D.C. (D. Neb.), Case No. 4:17-cv-03001-JMG-CRZ; 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 166340.
Additional sources: fremonttribune.com, usnews.com
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login
Related legal case
Marsh v. Campana
|U.S.D.C. (D. Neb.), Case No. 4:17-cv-03001-JMG-CRZ; 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 166340