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Who is Guarding the Guards?

Civil lawsuit settled in favor of three Dublin prisoners. No criminal charges filed against prison officials.

In February, the U.S. government settled a civil lawsuit initiated by three female prisoners at Dublin, Califormia. Defendants in the civil litigation were: O. Ivan White, former director of the Western region for the federal Bureau of Prisons; Warden Loy Hayes, Capt. Dennis Smith, Lt. Charles Gillette, Lt. Sheila Yarborough and Lt. Wayne Ernest; and guards Margo Gillette and Garfield Samuels of the Dublin federal penitentiary.

The lawsuit described a pattern of sexual abuse, retaliation and coverup. In August through September, 1995, in spite of available cells in the women's unit, the women were housed in the men's segregated housing unit of the Dublin prison complex. At night, the suit contends, a correctional officer opened their cell doors giving access to male inmates. The correctional officer was receiving money from male inmates in return for unlocking the women's cell doors. Two of the women were able to make report of the repeated rapes to the Regional Director, but there was no response.

One of the women swore under oath to senior officials at the prison identifying the correctional officer responsible and one of her attackers. She pleaded to be moved to one of the women's facilities. BOP officials refused to move her and her reports were leaked to her attackers. Three weeks later, her cell door was again opened. Three men entered. She was handcuffed, brutally beaten, sodomized and raped. Her attackers made clear that the assault was in retribution for her reports to authorities.

Despite the fact that counsel for the three women submitted them to polygraph examinations, confirming the validity of their claims, the U.S. Attorney's Office refused to put the evidence before an impartial grand jury and closed the criminal case after delaying over 2 years. No criminal or disciplinary charges were ever brought against the correctional officer or anyone else for the violent attacks, the cover-up and acts of retaliation or the obstruction of justice.

The civil rights action was filed in August of 1996 and is captioned, Lucas, Mercadel and Douthit v. White, et al., No. CV- 96-2905 THE. The lawsuit was resolved through the federal court's Alternative Dispute Resolution process.

The three women, two who were imprisoned on drug law violations and one who was serving a sentence for credit card fraud, were awarded $500,000. At the insistence of the victims, part of the settlement included implementation of a national BOP training program for current and new employees. The program will train prison officials to recognize and report sexual assaults and sexual harassment of female prisoners. The bureau will also develop a confidential system of reporting attacks to protect inmates from retaliation. Prisoners will be given literature on how to report sexual assaults, and victims will receive prompt medical and psychological treatment.

There is one hitch, however. In 1996, new laws went into effect that restrict the federal court's ability to protect prisoners from civil rights violations. We have all heard of those "frivolous jailhouse lawsuits"; rape, brutality and sodomy may well be considered suits of the same color. New law will also prevent enforcement of this settlement.

As loved ones of our prisoners, is it not fair to ask who is going to guard the guards?

And by the way, one woman has served her time and been released. The two that remain in prison are the women serving time for nonviolent drug violations.

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