ROCKLAND, Maine — A Washington woman has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Knox County claiming that a former jail guard repeatedly coerced her into having sex while she was incarcerated at the county jail in Rockland.
The now 24-year-old woman also claims that there were other instances of male guards having sex with female inmates.
According to the suit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Portland, the woman is seeking $300,000 in damages as well as unspecified punitive damages.
The suit states that while she was held at the Knox County Jail from November 2011 through April 2012, the guard coerced her into having sexual intercourse with him on at least three occasions. The Bangor Daily News is not naming the woman because she may be a victim. The guard is not being named because he has not been charged with any sex crime.
The woman’s attorney Paul Greene of Portland said it was not an easy thing for the woman to come forward.
“This was a courageous thing for her to do. We’re proud of her for stepping forward,” Greene said.
In Maine, it is a felony crime for corrections officers to have sex with an inmate under their supervision. The guard in this case never was charged with a sex assault, but in March 2012, he was charged with trafficking tobacco in an adult correctional facility after allegedly giving the same inmate a cigarette.
The guard was placed on administrative leave while an internal investigation was conducted, but he resigned three days after the tobacco charge was filed against him.
Sheriff Donna Dennison said when that trafficking charge was filed that state law prohibits tobacco products in the jail and that any tobacco is considered contraband.
“We have to take this seriously or small things can turn into bigger things,” she said at the time.
The guard failed to appear for a hearing on the case on May 14 of that year and the judge issued an arrest warrant. He was arrested two days later and then released on $200 bail.
The trafficking charge was dismissed in August by Judge John Kennedy because a Knox County deputy who was a witness in the trial was in training and not available to testify. Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Baroody said the state had requested a continuance on that case but the judge denied the request.
The federal civil rights lawsuit filed this week states that the guard sent the woman an email after she was released from jail admitting the sexual contact between the two while she was incarcerated.
The lawsuit further claims that there were several other instances of male guards having sex with female inmates at the county jail and that supervisors were made aware of them. In one instance, a male guard had sex with a female inmate in a room directly across the hall from the jail control booth where other guards are located.
The guard, whose home phone number is listed as out of service, could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Sheriff Dennison said Friday that she has not seen the lawsuit and would withhold comment on the specific allegations until she read it.
Dennison said there are often allegations by inmates of such conduct and that they are investigated. She said that the people making the claims often can’t be believed.
She said she would need to speak to an attorney before commenting on whether there were any claims made by female inmates that were found to have some validity.
Attorney Peter Marchesi, who represents Knox County, said Friday that Knox County has very strict policies prohibiting fraternization between staff and inmates. He said he had not yet seen this lawsuit but that it is not uncommon for inmates to make allegations against staff.
The woman was in jail at the time for violating probation on an underlying charge of possession of hydrocodone.
The woman is suing the corrections officer and Sheriff Donna Dennison in her capacity as sheriff and as a representative of Knox County. The actions by the jail guard were in reckless disregard of the woman’s civil rights and warrant the punitive damages, the suit states.
The woman is represented by attorneys Greene, Eric Mehnert of Bangor and William Maddox of Rockland. Greene said she has three attorneys because they wanted to provide her the best representation possible.