As a civil lawsuit trial begins Friday against former Sheriff Stanley Glanz over jail conditions that allegedly allowed the sexual assault of a female juvenile in custody, a grassroots group protested the lack of criminal charges in the case.
We The People Oklahoma, whose grand jury petition drive was central to Glanz’s 2015 resignation, has called on the Tulsa County district attorney to file charges against a former jailer accused of repeatedly raping a woman in the jail while Glanz was sheriff.
The group held a protest outside Tulsa’s federal courthouse today, where the civil lawsuit against Glanz over the alleged rapes began.
The plaintiff in the civil suit alleges that during a four-month period in 2010, former Detention Officer Seth Bowers repeatedly raped and sexually abused her in the jail’s medical unit, where female juveniles are held. A second girl alleged she witnessed Bowers expose himself and that he frequently gave her “hugs.”
The plaintiff was 17 at the time of the alleged rapes and was held in the jail on charges that were ultimately dismissed. (The Frontier’s policy is to withhold names of victims of alleged sexual assaults).
Tulsa County’s longtime former sheriff, who resigned after being indicted in September on unrelated charges, is expected to be called as a witness in the case. He has denied liability and has said the girl’s claims are false.
As reported by The Frontier last week, Bowers resigned from TCSO in June 2010, the day before he was to take a polygraph related to the girl’s allegations. Two months later, Tulsa DA Tim Harris’ office declined to file charges against Bowers, records show.
During a 2012 deposition for the civil lawsuit, Bowers repeatedly pled the Fifth Amendment when asked whether he raped or sexually assaulted the girl. Attempts by The Frontier to reach Bowers for comment were unsuccessful.
Though pleading the Fifth Amendment cannot be used against defendants in criminal cases, judges and juries can infer guilt in civil cases when a defendant has refused to answer questions. (This story about Florida Gov. Rick Scott has a good explanation of the issue.)
In a motion filed in the civil lawsuit, Bowers said the girl’s allegations were “vague” and lacked details such as dates and names that would allow him to defend the suit.
We The People Oklahoma said in a press release the group planned to demonstrate in support of the girl and other victims of sexual assault. The group also called on DA Steve Kunzweiler to charge Bowers.
“We believe the former District Attorney did not act appropriately when he refused to file charges against the former detention officer. We are now calling on District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler to do what his predecessor did not and file charges,” the release states.
“There is a 12-year statute of limitations from the date of discovery of a crime. We are well within those 12 years and charges should be filed immediately.”
Glanz is represented by Tulsa attorney Clark Brewster and the plaintiff is represented by attorney Dan Smolen, who has filed numerous civil rights cases against the sheriff’s office.
Bowers was originally a defendant in the civil suit by the girl but was dropped from the suit in 2013, records show. The motion by attorneys for both sides does not state a reason that Bowers was dropped.
Glanz remains a defendant in his individual and official capacities, meaning a successful verdict could eventually cost taxpayers. To find against the former sheriff in his official capacity, the six-member federal jury must conclude he was deliberately indifferent to conditions in the jail that led to the girl being sexually assaulted.
The suit alleges Glanz knew or should have known that conditions in the jail allowed the girl and other juvenile females to be sexually assaulted.
Records show the sheriff’s office repeatedly violated its own policies and state law on jail standards when it came to how girls in the jail were treated.
Oklahoma’s standards for jails require that staff members cannot enter a juvenile’s living area or cell without backup from another staff member. At least one staff member must be of the same gender as the juvenile except in emergency situations.
In a 2014 ruling, a federal judge who will oversee the civil trial states that the medical unit “was frequently single staffed. Many times the sole detention officer staffing the entire unit was a male … free to go back into the area of (the) medical unit where the female juveniles were housed, unattended and unsupervised.”
In 2008, a male nurse was discovered watching a 15-year-old girl shower in the jail’s medical unit. However, the sheriff’s office did not place cameras in the unit for three more years.
Blind spots in the jail’s video system made it more likely assaults would go undetected in those areas, the former sheriff said in his deposition for the lawsuit. Glanz stated that juvenile females are held in the jail’s medical unit “because it’s the only place we have.”
In a letter to a federal panel on prison rape, Glanz provided statistics showing that during 2008 and 2009, there were only two cases involving sexual assaults by staff on inmates in the jail and no cases in 2010.
Then-Chief Deputy Michelle Robinette, who prepared the statistics, testified along with Glanz under oath before the Department of Justice panel, which lauded the jail’s low reported rate of sexual assaults.
However, the information Glanz and Robinette provided to the DOJ was inaccurate, an investigation by The Frontier found. Their report excluded several documented cases of rape and sexual assault by detention officers and at least 13 allegations of inmate-on-inmate sexual abuse, records show.
Robinette, now serving as interim sheriff, prepared the sheriff’s responses to the DOJ because she supervised the jail’s operations. Though a federal law now requires jails and prisons to submit information on inmate sexual abuse, the law was not in effect at the time and their report was voluntary.
In a recent interview with The Frontier, Robinette repeated the same statistics provided to the federal government back in 2011.
“We went to Washington, D.C. to appear before the PREA board, the prison rape elimination act board, because we had a .04 percent occurrence, one of the best in the nation,” she said.
Though it’s unclear how many reports of alleged rape and sexual abuse were omitted, the girl’s lawsuit includes a list of more than a dozen reports not included in the jail’s official statistics. The DOJ report sought information on all alleged sexual abuse by inmates and staff from agencies across the nation, whether jails investigated them or not.
In court filings that are part of the federal suit, Glanz states that the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office “did not misrepresent the facts to the DOJ. Robinette inadvertently referenced three years (2008-2010) instead of the two years that were requested.”
Even that response was in error, however, because DOJ’s request covered all three years.
U.S. District Judge John Dowdell appeared to disagree with Glanz that Robinette’s omission was accidental, in a ruling declining to dismiss the lawsuit.
Dowdell’s opinion cites the sheriff’s letter, which states data from 2008 through 2010 was included “in all responses to ensure that complete, accurate and updated information is provided.”
“It is undisputed that there were at least two complaints of staff on inmate sexual abuse in 2010 … that were reported to and investigated by the Jail and neither was included,” his opinion states.
Dowdell’s opinion concludes that “a reasonable jury could infer that Glanz’s and TCSO’s policy and practice of housing juvenile female inmates in a wing of the medial unit — which was not under direct supervision, had no cameras, and was frequently single-staffed — placed those inmates at a substantial risk of sexual assault by Jail staff.”
Records show most of the 13 sexual abuse allegations not included in the DOJ report were closed with no action when inmates were released from jail. Several inmates who reported through the jail’s kiosk system that they were sexually assaulted by other inmates were told “when you get out you can press charges,” records show.