Though underage girls were the group most vulnerable to sexual assaults in the jail, the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office housed them in an isolated unit with no cameras and allowed a lone male detention officer unsupervised access to them, a jail expert testified during a federal civil trial Tuesday.
“I do feel the manner in which they chose to house females in an isolated area … instead of minimizing the risk to females they maximized the risk,” said Jeff Eiser, the former deputy director of corrections in Hamilton County, Ohio’s jail. He’s also co-author of the Ohio Jail Administrator’s Handbook and has served as an instructor in jails and national seminars.
Eiser testified during the second day of testimony in federal court over a civil rights lawsuit alleging former Sheriff Stanley Glanz and his office failed to protect a 17-year-old girl from sexual assault in the jail. The girl alleges a detention officer groped her, forced her to perform oral sex and repeatedly raped her in her cell in the jail’s medical unit.
Testimony emerged Tuesday that the detention officer, Seth Bowers, continued working for about three weeks after the sheriff’s office began investigating the allegations in May 2010. He resigned the day before a scheduled polygraph, saying he had found a higher paying job in the military.
During questioning by attorney Dan Smolen, representing the plaintiff, Eiser testified that juvenile females are the group most likely to be victimized in adult jails. In some cases, girls accused of more serious crimes in Oklahoma are held in adult jails rather than being taken to juvenile lockups.
While male juveniles are kept in pods where they can socialize and watch television in a common area, girls are locked in solitary confinement cells in the jail’s medical unit. They are fed meals through a “bean hole” and except for showers and visitors, are rarely allowed to leave their cells.
Glanz has testified in his deposition that girls are kept in the medical unit because “that’s the only place we have to put them.”
Eiser noted there were no video surveillance cameras in place in the medical unit in 2010, when the alleged assaults occurred. The juvenile girls’ cells in the medical unit were separated by a locked door and glass windows were covered by curtains.
Eiser said to protect girls from sexual assaults, a female officer should accompany male officers opening their cells. He said according to the records he has seen, “very often Officer Bowers was able to enter those last locked doors without backup from or assistance of a female officer.”
Eiser discussed records showing that Bowers showed up in the medical unit on several occasions when he was not assigned and checked the girl’s cell.
The sheriff’s office violated several of its own policies in the way girls were supervised in 2010, when the assaults allegedly occurred, Eiser said. Though officers working with juveniles are required to have one year of jail employment first, Bowers had not met that requirement, records show.
Eiser said his review of the case and associated records led him to conclude that the sheriff’s office showed “deliberate indifference” to the safety of female juvenile inmates in the jail.
During cross examination, attorney Clark Brewster noted that the plaintiff had not initially claimed Bowers raped her or forced her to perform oral sex.
During her initial interview with the sheriff’s office, the girl said Bowers repeatedly grabbed her butt and breasts, touched her vagina and exposed his erect penis to her while asking her to perform oral sex.
Those claims involved “improper touching” and not intercourse or oral sex, Brewster said.
“I think you’re missing an important point counselor,” Eiser replied. “Those touchings are a lot more serious in nature .. than they were if you were on the street and someone grabs your butt.”
Brewster, exasperated at times with Eiser’s answers, pointed out that it’s difficult for jails to set aside dedicated housing for the few female juveniles they receive.
Reviewing the precautions the jail must take, Brewster said: “So you say we’re not going to put her in with the men.”
“Well you actually did,” Eiser replied. “You put a man right next to her.”
A male inmate, Dolan Prejean, was held next to the plaintiff and another teen girl while they were in the jail. Prejean was a material witness in a murder case and the sheriff’s office feared he would be harmed or killed by other inmates.
Brewster repeatedly noted that the sheriff’s office has a “zero tolerance policy” toward sexual assaults. Eiser agreed that the policies of the jail are appropriate.
“They knew the standard. They knew what they were supposed to be doing. They just didn’t follow them,” he said.
Referring to the zero tolerance policy, Smolen asked Eiser: “Have you ever heard of a jail that could rape two or three people and it would be OK?”
“No,” he replied.
Though Glanz was expected to testify Tuesday, his testimony was delayed by a discussion involving the attorneys and U.S. District Judge John Dowdell, overseeing the case. One of eight remaining jurors, a retired accountant, was summoned to the courtroom and talked with Dowdell before being escorted out of the courtroom.
Dowdell informed seven remaining jurors afterward that the juror “is no longer on the jury.” He reminded the jury to refrain from reading or viewing media reports about the case or talking about it in any way.
The juror posted a photo on his Facebook page Friday morning of the federal courthouse in downtown Tulsa before jury selection began. In answer to comments on his post, the juror wrote only that he was “on a jury” in a civil case.
However other commenters discussed the case that the juror was hearing, with one noting: “I say fry him! Don’t let him keep pleading the Fifth.”
The comment was a reference to Bowers, who repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment rights during his deposition in answer to questions about whether he had sexual contact with the plaintiff.
Bowers was originally named as a defendant along with Glanz but settled the lawsuit. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed but during comments from the bench, Dowdell indicated it may be related to his decision to plead the Fifth.
Bowers’ attorney, Anthony Allen, said a settlement “need not include the exchange of funds.”
“My client’s assertion of his constitutional rights is not an indicator that he acted badly. It is an indicator that he— or his attorney — fully understood his rights and the perils of waiving his rights.”
He said the DA’s decision not to charge Bowers was appropriate.
“Statements by two convicts that ‘something fishy’ was happening, along with all of the other evidence available were not enough to convince the district attorney to even indict my client. That’s not a cover up. That’s just good use of prosecutorial discretion.”