Even while incarcerated in Oregon, a person has certain basic human and civil rights, including the right (secured by the Eighth Amendment) to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. That right includes things like being free from “deliberate medical neglect” as a prisoner or being sexually assaulted by prison staff members. When those in charge deny those basic rights to inmates, the victim(s) may be able to pursue and win a civil rights lawsuit. Doing so often requires deep knowledge of the law and the process, which means that most any such case would benefit from the services of an experienced Oregon jail civil rights lawyer to maximize the chances of success.
Coffee Creek Correctional Facility is Oregon’s lone women’s prison. Regrettably and inexcusably, Coffee Creek has been a site of recurring sexual abuse of prisoners almost from its opening in 2001. Starting in 2002 and continuing for several years, the prison landscape manager and three others sexually abused numerous inmates, leading to civil settlements between the state and 17 of those victims, according to The Oregonian.
Sadly, the abuse did not end there. Earlier this month, The Oregonian reported that Coffee Creek’s former prison nurse entered a plea on dozens of charges related to sexual assaults during his time working at the prison. The indictment included 21 charges related to the man’s sexual misconduct and four counts of perjury.
The U.S. Department of Justice alleged that, in 2016 and 2017, the nurse sexually assaulted 12 women, with four of those rising to the level of aggravated sexual battery. In addition to the criminal charges, the nurse was a named defendant (alongside the Oregon Department of Corrections) in 13 civil lawsuits stemming from his conduct.
While the indictment covers the attacks on 12 inmates, the DOC indicated that a total of 27 women came forward with allegations against the nurse since 2019, according to The Oregonian.
Sexual Victimization Shouldn’t Be Part of Criminal Punishment
Case decisions from the federal courts make it very clear that assaults like these can be the basis for a successful civil rights lawsuit. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal court whose rulings control federal cases in several western states including Oregon, explicitly said in 2012 that these kinds of assaults represent a violation of the Eighth Amendment and that this kind of sexual abuse “is simply not ‘part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society.'”
Two years ago, the 9th Circuit reaffirmed that concept in another prisoner sexual assault case, stating that “a prisoner presents a viable Eighth Amendment claim where he or she proves that a prison staff member, acting under color of law and without legitimate penological justification, touched the prisoner in a sexual manner or otherwise engaged in sexual conduct for the staff member’s own sexual gratification, or for the purpose of humiliating, degrading, or demeaning the prisoner.”
Federal law has eliminated potential arguments by prison workers or officials that the conduct was consensual and, therefore, not illegal. In 2003, Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act. That statute dictated that inmates cannot legally consent to sexual activity with a staff member and that any staff-on-inmate sexual contact is a sex crime.
What all that means is, if a prison staff member has sexually abused an inmate, that staff member has violated that inmate’s constitutional rights, and the inmate may be entitled to relief through a civil rights lawsuit.
The knowledgeable Oregon prison civil rights attorneys at Kaplan Law LLC offer assistance to people who have been sexually victimized (or have had a loved one so harmed) in prison. Violating criminal laws should come with certain consequences, but being sexually violated while an inmate should never be one of them. Our attorneys are dedicated to fighting diligently for those hurt by this kind of inexcusable — and unconstitutional — misconduct. Call us today at (503) 226-3844 or contact us online to set up your free consultation.