A female inmate sexually assaulted by a Colorado Department of Corrections sergeant was awarded $1.3 million Wednesday by a federal judge who said he hoped the damages would be a deterrent to other correctional officers.
"The court recognizes that punitive damages awards often are overinflated but believes an award of this magnitude is justified under the disturbing circumstances of this case," wrote U.S. Circuit Judge David M. Ebel in his opinion issued late Wednesday.
". . . The right to be safe from sexual assault and rape by one of her guards turned out to be worth no more than the paper upon which (the regulation) was printed," he wrote.
Ebel also said that based on testimony from other inmates who corroborated the victim's experience, he believes the DOC does not effectively enforce a zero-tolerance policy on sexual abuse of inmates. He said that is one reason he set the damages so high.
The lawsuit was filed in 2008 against former Sgt. LeShawn Terrell by a female inmate serving time at the Denver Women's Correctional Facility. The Denver Post is withholding her name because she is a victim of sexual assault.
The inmate also sued the Department of Corrections and settled for $250,000 out of court, her attorney, Mari Newman, said.
The 34-year-old inmate is serving a four-year sentence on drug, burglary and escape charges and won't be eligible for parole until October, according to court records.
Her lawsuit accused Terrell of sexually assaulting her during a five-month period culminating in an October 2006 rape.
Terrell pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of unlawful sexual contact and was sentenced to 60 days in jail.
The judge also criticized that sentence as too short.
The $1.3 million includes $354,070 in compensatory damages for the victim's medical costs and emotional suffering and $1 million in punitive damages against Terrell.