If you tell anyone what happened, we’ll both get in trouble, a Tulsa Jail detention officer warned a 17-year-old girl each time he entered her cell to grope and have sex with her, a woman testified in federal court Thursday.
Sheriff Stanley Glanz and Interim Sheriff Michelle Robinette are being sued by the now 23-year-old, who alleges the detention officer repeatedly raped her, forced her to perform oral sex and sexually assaulted her while she was held in the jail. The assaults allegedly occurred during four months in 2010 when she was held in the north end of the medical unit.
The woman sobbed throughout her testimony as she recalled former jail Detention Officer Seth Bowers groping her butt, breasts and body, “pulling his thing out” and forcing her to have sex with him on multiple occasions in 2010.
She didn’t tell anyone at the time, she testified, because she didn’t want to get in trouble and “didn’t want to get charged with nothing.”
The assaults began around the time Bowers was allowed to supervise the teen while she showered naked, and he lifted a piece of paper taped over a window to stare at her for at least a minute, she testified.
After that, he began coming into her cell to touch her breasts and force her to have sex, and she didn’t feel like she could stop it, she testified.
“I was scared. I didn’t know what to do but to go with it,” the woman recalled.
Was it because you asked him to, or were manipulating him as part of a con game, or flirting with him, asked Thomas Mortensen, one of the attorneys representing the woman in the lawsuit.
No, the woman answered to each question.
The Frontier does not name victims of alleged sexual assaults.
Male Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office employees were sometimes allowed to supervise female juveniles housed in the jail’s medical unit while the girls showered because the department didn’t always have enough female officers, Robinette testified.
During questioning by attorney Dan Smolen, also representing the woman in her lawsuit, Robinette didn’t have an explanation for why Bowers had reportedly “passed” a criminal background check to work at the jail, despite felony and misdemeanor convictions in another state.
Wouldn’t a National Crime Information Center (NCIC) background check reveal a felony theft charge or a misdemeanor conviction for disorderly conduct involving a weapon, Smolen asked Robinette. Bowers had both, he noted.
An NCIC check could have missed those, Robinette suggested.
Smolen asked her to look the jury “in the face” and tell them that an NCIC report doesn’t pick up misdemeanor convictions. Attorneys for the Sheriff’s Office objected to Smolen’s phrasing of the question, but U.S. District Judge John Dowdell allowed it.
“You don’t have to look at them,” Dowdell told Robinette.
Smolen pointed out that Clark Brewster, one of the attorneys representing the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, had said in his opening statements that former Detention Officer Bowers didn’t even have a speeding ticket.
During a deposition in 2012 as part of the lawsuit, Bowers repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment rights when asked whether he had sexual contact with the girl.
Allegations that the girl had been sexually assaulted emerged several weeks after she was released from the jail.
By May 19, 2010, three inmates had told an investigator for the sheriff’s office they had seen Bowers enter the girl’s cell and stay for up to 15 minutes. One of the inmates, an 18-year-old girl, said she saw Bowers grope the girl and expose his penis to her.
However, testimony earlier this week indicated Bowers continued working for three weeks after the sheriff’s office began investigating. He resigned the day before a scheduled polygraph, saying he had found a higher paying job in the military.
Tony Allen, an attorney for Bowers, said invoking the Fifth Amendment “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.”
Bowers was initially a defendant in the lawsuit but was dropped after a settlement. Terms of the settlement have not been disclosed.
‘The only place we have’
To prevail in her lawsuit, the plaintiff will have to convince a six-member jury that the assaults occurred and that the sheriff’s office showed “deliberate indifference” to the risk she and other girls faced in the jail.
Witnesses have testified that the medical unit lacked cameras that could have discouraged sexual assaults, that the unit was often staffed with just one officer, and that officers were not required to have special training to deal with juveniles.
During the five days of testimony, witnesses have discussed differences between how male and female juveniles are treated in the jail. State law allows teens charged with some crimes to be held in adult lockups. Though the list includes violent crimes such as murder, rape and robbery, it also includes less serious crimes such as burglary.
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.” It’s unclear whether the jail has plans to add any special housing for girls as part of its expansion, funded by a sales tax approved in 2014.
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.
Policies of the sheriff’s office require staff working with “youthful offenders” to have one year of service and training in a variety of areas, including adolescent development and “gender-specific issues.”
Those requirements only apply, however, to staff working with male juveniles because they live in a dedicated youthful offender pod, Robinette has testified. (The policy does not say it excludes girls, however.)
Policies also require that “adequate program space will be provided to meet the physical, social and emotional needs of youthful offenders.” They are to be housed in direct supervision-style pods “to ensure the safety and security of youthful offenders.”
Those requirements also do not apply to female juveniles, who are housed in single cells in the medical unit. Robinette testified Wednesday and Thursday that the policies don’t apply to girls because there are not enough of them to justify dedicated housing.
Records obtained by The Frontier and NewsOn6 show 24 girls have been held in the Tulsa Jail since Jan. 1, 2015. On Tuesday, the sheriff’s office denied a request by the news organizations for records of grievances filed by juveniles and weekly activity reports, saying those are law enforcement records not subject to disclosure.