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Federal Court Allows Lawsuit Over Sexual Assault of Female Connecticut Prisoner to Proceed

by Matt Clarke

On October 8, 2019, a federal court denied summary judgment on some claims against seven Connecticut Department of Corrections (DOC) supervisory personnel who Cara Tangreti, a former prisoner at the state’s only women’s prison, alleged placed her in danger of repeated sexual assaults. Four guards were fired and three prosecuted for the sexual assaults, but none were named as defendants in the lawsuit.

“Cara was addicted to opiates and wrote bad checks against her stepfather’s account. She was in a minimum security drug treatment program trying to get help,” said Providence attorney Antonio Ponvert III, who represents her. “For that, she received what amounts to a life sentence.”

In February 2014, Tangreti was incarcerated at the York Correctional Institution, which has 425 acres containing numerous buildings. She was housed in the Davis Building, a stand-alone, minimum-security 85-bunk building. Three guards were assigned to Davis at all times—one upstairs, one downstairs, and one “rover.”

According to her complaint, soon after she arrived at Davis, guard Jeffrey Bromley sexually assaulted and raped her numerous times. These sexual assaults occurred in blind spots, areas not covered by cameras at Davis, frequently in the building’s laundry, his office, or the basement.

Tangreti used a note to report this “relationship” to another guard, Daniel Crowley. Instead of acting on the information, he kissed her on the mouth and threw away the note. Independently, Bromley told Crowley about the “relationship.” The latter also failed to act on that information.

At least five other guards and Davis Counselor Supervisor/Unit Manager Christine Bachmann knew about the improper “relationship” and did nothing to stop it or report it, the complaint alleged.

In the fall of 2014, Bromley was transferred away from Davis because another prisoner complained of sexual assault and harassment. Then guard Matthew Gillette allegedly raped her. Guard Kareem Dawson also allegedly sexually assaulted Tangreti multiple times.

After Tangreti was finally able to report the abuse, an investigation ensued and Bromley, Gillette, Dawson, and Crowley were fired. All but Crowley were also criminally prosecuted. The internal investigation substantiated wrongdoing on the part of prison personnel.

Tangreti filed a federal civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging Eighth Amendment violations, with pendent state claims of recklessness and intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) against the supervisory personnel. The defendants moved for summary judgment.

The court held that DOC Commissioner Scott Semple, DOC PREA Director/Coordinator David McNeil, York Warden Stephen Faucher, York Deputy Warden Stephen Bates, York Administrative Operational Lt. Douglas Andrew, and York PREA Compliance Lt. Modikiah Johnson were entitled to qualified immunity on the Eighth Amendment claim as Tangreti had not shown that they were responsible for the guards who sexually assaulted her, or did not respond appropriately to her reported sexual assaults when informed of them. Although those defendants knew about the lacking cameras and blind spots, Tangreti had not proven that their slow movement toward acquiring cameras was an unreasonable response that caused the sexual assaults.

The court did not grant summary judgment to Bachmann who had an office on the same floor with Bromley, saw indications of the inappropriate “relationship” and failed to report it because she “did not consider this to be a serious incident.” Further, she admitted knowing he was “being too close to the inmates” and “always walking the line of inappropriateness.” Therefore, the court found there was sufficient evidence that Bachmann “was aware of a substantial risk of sexual assault, generally at Davis, specifically by CO Bromley, and specifically against Ms. Tangreti.”

The court found that a reasonable juror could conclude there was an affirmative causal link” between Bachmann’s failure to report what she knew and the sexual abuse of Tangreti. Therefore, she was not entitled to qualified immunity on the Eighth Amendment claim at this stage of the litigation.

Because the claim against Bachmann kept the federal case alive, the court analyzed the state claims against all the defendants. The court granted summary judgment on the IIED claim to all of the defendants except Johnson, who allegedly sexually harassed Tangreti. It denied summary judgment to all defendants on the recklessness claim, noting that the evidence could conceivably support a claim of recklessness.

Thus, the lawsuit is proceeding against all seven defendants for recklessness and additionally against Johnson for IIED, and against Bachmann for Eighth Amendment violations. The trial is set to begin September 2, 2020. See: Tangreti v. Semple, USDC (D. Conn.), Case No. 3:17-cv-O142O-MPS. 


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Related legal case

Tangreti v. Semple