In a 2011 letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, Sheriff Stanley Glanz boasted that his agency was “setting the bar for others to follow” when it came to preventing sexual assaults in the Tulsa Jail.
Glanz provided statistics that year to the DOJ’s Review Panel on Prison Rape 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 federal panel, which lauded the jail’s low reported rate of sexual assaults.
However, the information Glanz and Robinette provided to the DOJ that day was inaccurate, an investigation by The Frontier has 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.
A year before Glanz and Robinette testified, the sheriff’s office recommended to the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office that a former detention officer be criminally charged for alleged sexual assaults and rapes of a 17-year-old girl held in the jail.
The girl alleged the detention officer, Seth Bowers, repeatedly forced her to perform oral sex and raped her in the jail’s medical unit, where female juveniles are held, over a four month period in 2010. A second girl said she witnessed the officer expose himself and that he frequently gave her “hugs.”
That was the year Glanz and Robinette reported there were no allegations of staff-on-inmate sexual abuse.
The district attorney’s office declined to file charges against Bowers, who resigned one day before he was scheduled to take a polygraph test at the Sheriff’s Office. Bowers repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment during a deposition in which he was questioned about the girl’s allegations, records show.
In a federal lawsuit against Glanz and the county, the girl’s attorneys say juvenile females are “thrown to the wolves” in the Tulsa Jail, which repeatedly violates its own policies in the way they are supervised. In legal motions, Glanz has denied individual and official liability in the case, which is set for trial beginning Friday.
Though Glanz is no longer sheriff — he resigned in November after he was indicted on two misdemeanors— the county could be held liable if jurors find the former sheriff was liable in his official capacity for violating the girl’s civil rights.
The Frontier is withholding the plaintiff’s name because she is a victim of alleged sexual assault.
Bob Blakemore, an attorney representing the plaintiff, said the girl “was subjected to repeated sexual abuse” by a detention officer.
“This all occurred in a secluded area of the Jail’s medical unit that was inadequately staffed and not monitored by video surveillance equipment. It is our position that Sheriff Glanz violated … constitutional rights by failing to take even minimal security measures to ensure that juvenile females inmates were protected.”
Glanz, represented by attorney Clark Brewster, has denied liability for violating the girl’s civil rights and said her claims are false.
In a recent motion, Glanz sought to exclude the testimony of several former detention officers and jail medical workers expected to testify. The motion said the witnesses would merely testify about “unsubstantiated rumors” they heard of staff sexually assaulting inmates.
Judge criticizes interim sheriff’s report
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.
Robinette said she couldn’t comment on specific lawsuits and her office has not responded to follow up questions about the accuracy of its report to DOJ.
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.
A federal judge who will oversee the trial appeared to disagree with Glanz that Robinette’s omission was accidental.
“The referenced testimony cited for that proposition does not support it,” states the opinion, written in 2014 by U.S. District Judge John Dowdell. “On its face, the responses provided to the DOJ-RP reflect that the TCSO represented that it was advertently including 2010.”
His 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 2014 opinion overruled Glanz’s motion to dismiss the girl’s lawsuit, filed by the Smolen, Smolen and Roytman law firm. The firm has won a federal civil rights suit involving discrimination against black employees in the jail and has several pending suits over deaths in the jail.
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.
‘The only place we can house them’
Because there are relatively few of them held in the jail, female juveniles do not have an assigned pod, as male juveniles do. Instead, they are held in the jail’s medical unit, which Robinette acknowledged in depositions is often staffed with just one officer instead of the two that are required.
And from 2005, when the sheriff took over jail operations, until 2011, there were also no video cameras covering the medical unit. Blind spots in the jail’s video system made it more likely assaults would go undetected in those areas, the former sheriff says in his deposition for the lawsuit.
Glanz states that juvenile females are held in the jail’s medical unit “because it’s the only place we have.”
“They’re such few numbers of them, the only place we can house them in accordance with the standards,” he states in his deposition.
However the jail repeatedly violated those standards and its own policies in the way girls were treated, records show.
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.
Dowdell’s opinion notes that during the time the girl was held at the jail, “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.”
“There were no special policies or precautions taken to protect female juveniles … housed in the north wing of the medical unit,” his opinion states.
In 2008, a male nurse at the jail was discovered “peeking” at a 15-year-old girl as she showered in the medical unit, the DOJ report states. Charges were presented to the district attorney, who declined to file them.
Though that incident and others occurred in the medical unit, the Sheriff’s Office did not place cameras there until three years later.
In addition to the possibility of sexual abuse by staff, female inmates in the medical unit were also at risk of assault by other inmates.
Two days before Glanz and Robinette testified before the DOJ panel, an inmate classified as an “extreme escape risk” was given trustee status within the jail. The inmate, Jessie Earl Johnson, was being held on charges of assaulting a police officer and booking notes stated “extreme caution” should be used in moving him throughout the jail.
Later that month, while Johnson was working in the jail’s kitchen, he slipped into the medical unit unsupervised and allegedly raped an inmate being held there. The woman had gone to the unit complaining of chest pains and a detention officer left the door to her holding room unlocked. Meanwhile, the second detention officer left his post and left Johnson unsecured.
An internal affairs investigation concluded the detention officers violated multiple policies, including leaving the post, leaving the door unlocked, and failure to secure and supervise inmates.
Johnson was charged with first-degree rape and sexual battery but prosecutors dropped those charges on the same day he received 13 years for pleading guilty to assaulting a police officer.
In her interview with The Frontier, Robinette defended the way the jail has operated.
“Were there issues in the jail? Absolutely. With the number of employees and number of inmates, you’re always going to have something,” she said.
“I’m not downplaying anything … but I will tell you that our jail, and I firmly believe it and it has been proven on several occasions, that we have a jail that is one of the best operating, running managed jails in the nation.”