(CNN) – Twenty-eight women incarcerated in Indiana have alleged in two separate federal lawsuits that they were threatened or sexually assaulted, including two who said they were raped, last year by men incarcerated in the same facility which, according to one of the lawsuits, bribed a prison officer with $1,000 to obtain keys to their prison cells.
Women are suing Clark County Sheriff Jamey Noel, former Clark County Jail Officer David Lowe and unidentified jail officers in two federal civil rights lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District from Indiana. The lawsuits stem from events that plaintiffs allege took place in the Clark County Jail in Jeffersonville on the evening of Oct. 23 through the morning of Oct. 24, 2021, attorneys for both lawsuits told CNN.
The first lawsuit, filed June 21 on behalf of 20 named women, alleges that men incarcerated in the same facility threatened, assaulted or raped them for several hours after Lowe gave the men keys to access the cells of the women. The second lawsuit was filed July 25 on behalf of eight additional women who are not named, according to Steve Wagner, an attorney who filed the lawsuit. He describes what they called “a night of terror” at the jail and says two men got the keys in return for a $1,000 payment.
A woman in the first trial alleged that she was raped during the incident and another woman in the second trial also alleged that she was raped. However, no charges have been brought against those allegations, according to William Perry McCall, a lawyer who filed the first lawsuit in June on behalf of 20 women. Lawyers for both lawsuits told CNN the women were not speaking publicly about their claims, citing reasons including emotional distress and protecting their identities.
Both lawsuits say the women suffered physical, emotional and psychological harm in violation of their constitutional rights.
The July 25 lawsuit accuses Noel of failing to properly staff the prison, train prison officers and supervise them to ensure they “maintain adequate security in the prison.” He adds that “these systemic failures allowed many male abusers to run free in the prison for several hours, resulting in a night of terror for complainants and other victims.”
Noel declined to comment on the lawsuits, noting that litigation is ongoing. However, in a statement to CNN, Noel’s attorney, Larry Wilder, said, “The events of October 23 are the result of the unpredictable criminal actions of a rogue corrections officer. The individual in question chose to abandon his training, his ethics and his morals and made the unilateral decision to mortgage his career and his future by allowing inmates access to the keys of the prison.
Wilder said the sheriff is “committed to ensuring that nothing of this magnitude or magnitude ever happens again,” but he is “also committed to debunking the untruths that have been alleged by those trying to profit financially. of the crimes of David Lowe.
Prison officials launched an investigation “immediately” upon learning of the events, Wilder says, which included a review of security footage and taped interviews with prison officers, men incarcerated at the facility and “more than 40” female prisoners.
As a result of the investigation, Wilder said, the sheriff’s department is making “immediate changes to the physical structure of the jail as well as a review of procedure and practices.”
Lowe was taken into custody Oct. 25 on charges of official misconduct and aiding, abetting or evading, according to court documents. He is currently out of jail on bail and is awaiting his criminal trial in November, according to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. Lowe has yet to reach a plea deal.
CNN’s attempts to reach Lowe for a statement in response to the allegations were unsuccessful, and his attorney could not be identified.
Lowe said in a statement to the Washington Post that he was ‘coerced and assaulted into making a false confession’ about taking money from the men in exchange for the keys to the women’s pod.
Lowe claimed in his statement to the Post that he made a mistake that ultimately allowed the men to steal the keys and that it was an accident resulting from overwork. He also told the newspaper that he only learned of the attack in the days that followed because he worked in another area of the prison.
The attacks continued for several hours, according to the suit
Events began to unfold “on the night of October 23 and into the early morning hours of October 24” when two male inmates used keys provided by Lowe to enter each of the facility’s pods where were the inmates. housed, according to the July trial.
The men threatened the women, including death threats, if they “pressed the button” to call in officers, according to the first lawsuit, filed in June. They then left the pods and returned with several other male inmates who were wearing towels and blankets covering their heads and faces, according to the lawsuit.
Over the course of several hours, “at least two of the inmates were raped,” the lawsuit says.
Additionally, according to the lawsuit, the men “grabbed and groped” the women, exposing their genitals to the women and making sexual and threatening statements. ‘Several hours’ after the attack began, one of the women pressed the emergency button and began screaming to call corrections officers, at which point the men left the pod, the lawsuit alleges .
A prison officer who opened the door and turned on the lights informed the women that they had lost their “dark” privileges, meaning the lights remained on in the women’s area for the next 72 hours, the lawsuit says . In addition, the women were detained for several days and taken to holding cells for interrogation. A few days later, according to the lawsuit, prison officers removed the women’s personal items such as razors, pillows and blankets.
The lawsuit filed on July 25 by different lawyers on behalf of eight unnamed women incarcerated in the same prison says that Lowe gave male inmates keys to the interior areas of the prison, where they could access many restricted areas, in exchange for $1,000.
The women suffered “significant emotional and physical injuries, including but not limited to nightmares, bleeding, vaginal tearing and genital herpes,” the lawsuit states.
Women are left in a ‘constant state of fear’, lawyer says
In a statement to CNN, Wagner said prison officials retaliated against the women after they were allegedly assaulted. Additionally, he said the missing keys to their pods had still not been found in the days following the incident, leaving the women “in a constant state of fear that the male inmates would return on subsequent nights. “.
“In this environment, given the threats from the assailants and the complete lack of sympathy – or protection – from the prison officials, the women, naturally, initially kept silent about what had happened. . They feared for their lives,” Wagner said. He says the women decided to report the incident after being encouraged by family and friends.
Wilder said in his statement that interviews conducted by sheriff’s detectives with women detained at the jail as part of the investigation, after Lowe’s arrest, “provided information that directly opposes the allegations being made. in the civil trial”.
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