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California Female Prisoners Used as Honey Trap Bait for Rapist Guard

On April 29, 2021, Los Angeles attorney Jennifer A. Bandlow filed a federal civil rights lawsuit urging four causes of action on behalf of two unnamed female prisoners who suffered actual sexual assaults while acting as bait to catch prison guard Stephen Merrill sexually harassing them. They are identified as Jane Doe 2 and Jane Doe 3 in media reports as well as lawsuit filings.

Merrill began working for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) in 2014. Although the botched sting operation against him occurred on October 30, 2017, it would not be until April 24, 2018, before CDCR terminated his employment.

He was assigned to the graveyard shift at Chino’s California Institute for Women (CCIW) when he fixated on Doe 2 in the late summer of 2017. At first, he would comment on her beauty while unlocking the cell door to pass her food around 3:00 a.m. a couple of times each week.

His kindness quickly morphed into unwelcome sexual innuendo to the point Doe 2 would remain covered, playing possum. Merrill was not fooled, persisting until Doe 2 cooperated to the point of touching his penis. She became depressed, took an overdose of drugs, and was placed on suicide watch.

After her release to the general population, Doe 2 was assigned to a two-person cell with a prisoner who would become Jane Doe 3. Right after receiving her new cell assignment, Doe 2 was interviewed by Investigative Services Unit (ISU) and Internal Affairs (IA) officers concerning misconduct allegations about yet another guard. Doe 2 made her initial statement about Merrill to these investigators.

IA Captain Joseph Spinney and IA Special Agent Michael Newman devised a sting operation to catch Merrill “in the act” of sexually harassing Doe 2. While Newman requested permission to install audio and video monitoring devices in Doe 3’s cell, Spinney met with Doe 2. He told her she had to play a part in the “set-up” in order to “catch” Merrill “in the act.”

In Newman’s request, he reported both Does would flirt with Merrill, wearing only underwear or nothing at all when he came to their cell. Doe 2 seemed apprehensive about the plan. Spinney told her several ISU and IA agents. were part of the operation.

They only wanted to catch Merrill entering their cell without a supervisor, a major policy violation. If Merrill entered the cell and went too far, all Doe 2 had to do is ask “Can we get some pizza?” and help would come. Doe 3 was never told about the planned sting operation.

As expected, Merrill entered the Does’ cell several times during the night of October 30, 2017.              No ISU or IA agents intervened. The fourth time he entered the cell he grabbed Doe 3, penetrating her with a finger.  Doe 2 asked, “Can we get some pizza?” No response. Merrill then bent Doe 2 over, penetrated her with his finger while pushing her face toward his penis. Doe 2 again asked, “Can we get some pizza?”

Only after Merrill had digitally penetrated both women did ISU and IA agents arrive. The investigators placed plastic bags over Merrill’s hands and removed him from the cell.

Both women have been undergoing psychiatric counseling and remain at CCIW.

Merrill entered a no-contest plea in July 2018 for the offense of “sexual activity by a public employee with a consenting adult” despite the law specifying prisoners are not legally able to give consent to have sex with guards. He was given a two-year prison sentence to be suspended while he serves a three-year probation. The civil rights case remains pending as we go to press. See: Jane Doe 2 v. Officer S. Merrill, USDC, CD CA, Case Number 5:21-cv-00771-DMG-RAO. 


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Related legal case

Jane Doe 2 v. Officer S. Merrill