SPOKANE, Wash. -- At least seven female prison inmates have reported they were sexually harassed or abused by corrections officers while in custody in Washington prisons, a newspaper investigation has found. One staffer was fired; another resigned and was prosecuted, The Spokesman-Review newspaper reported.
Also, four other current or former female inmates filed a proposed class-action lawsuit last summer in Thurston County on behalf of an unknown number of women allegedly abused by staffers behind bars.
At the women's prison near Gig Harbor, "it appears that the guards believe that this is kind of like a fishing pond," said Brett Purtzer, a Tacoma attorney who's representing several other female inmates claiming sexual misconduct.In one case, Jeffrey Wayne Hill, 52, who had worked as a correctional officer for seven years, was spotted adjusting his pants as he came out of a restroom with a 28-year-old inmate in 2005.
An investigation revealed that the female inmate had written "love notes" to Hill, had allowed Hill to watch her shower and had once reached through the handcuff port of a cell door and grabbed his crotch. Confronted, the woman acknowledged that she and Hill had sex.
The woman filed a claim against the state, which paid her $45,000. Purtzer, her attorney, said the sex was wrong even if consensual.
"The problem is that there's a criminal statute precluding sexual contact with inmates," Purtzer said. "The guards have all the power out there."
Another former inmate told the newspaper she and Hill became sexually involved after her release from Pine Lodge. She said Hill repeatedly threatened to have her sent back to prison if she told anyone about the relationship.
Hill resigned last year, but was charged with custodial misconduct and official misconduct. In April, he pleaded guilty to both charges, ending up with two years probation and a suspended one-year prison sentence. He did not respond to a message seeking comment.
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