A man in the Jackson County jail on a first-degree murder charge was wandering the halls of the jail for almost two hours with two other inmates before he allegedly raped a woman, according to court documents filed Wednesday.
Another inmate let the alleged attacker out of his cell with a key he had taken two days before when a guard left her keys in his cell door. When the inmate returned the guard’s keys, he kept the key to his cell, court records say, and later let himself and the attacker out of their cells.
Accusations that inmates sexually assaulted two inmates have roiled the jail since they came to light late last month. The attack prompted police to release or transfer all 23 female inmates out of the Jackson County Regional Correctional Center. And on Tuesday, Jackson County legislators ordered the hiring of an independent auditor to review all procedures and operations of the jail and two adjacent facilities.
The Jackson County prosecutor on Wednesday charged Dontae D. Jefferson, 29, with first-degree rape, first-degree burglary and two counts of first-degree sexual abuse in an attack on Aug. 26. Charges haven’t been filed in the other alleged assault.
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In a statement released Wednesday through the Jackson County Prosecutor’s office announcing Jefferson’s charges, the victim said, “My life and the lives of my family have been in turmoil since the events of last week. We are struggling to move forward. I am praying those responsible will be held to a measure of justice.”
The victim has been released from jail.
At the time of the alleged rape, Jefferson was being held at the jail while awaiting trial on a first-degree murder charge and five other felonies in an April 2014 attack at a gas station at 45th Street and Cleveland Avenue that left a man dead and paralyzed his son.
Officials initially said the victim was in the adjacent Jackson County Regional Correctional Center, where Kansas City municipal violators are held. However, it appears from the charging documents that the assault occurred in the ground-floor lockup area that is shared by both facilities. A city official confirmed that to be the case. It was unclear why an inmate who has been awaiting trial for two years was in the lockup area.
A spokeswoman for the office of Jackson County Executive Frank White said Wednesday that the county would continue to work and provide assistance to Kansas City police and the Jackson County prosecutor to ensure that those responsible were held accountable.
“Today, as has been the case since we first learned of this horrible crime, our focus remains and will continue to remain on the victims and the safety of all those within our care,” the statement said.
White’s office said one jail guard remained suspended without pay pending the outcome of an independent investigation by former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves. The independent performance audit ordered by the legislature is separate from Graves’ investigation.
According to court documents:
Kansas City police went to the jail on Aug. 26 to investigate a reported rape. The victim told police that she was fondled by a man whom she thought was a guard.
The next day at the hospital, she told police that she hadn’t told them all of the details because she was scared to speak in front of the jail staff.
She told police that a man, whom she later identified as Jefferson, entered her cell, according to the documents. Once inside, he began to fondle her. When she pushed him away, he strangled and punched her.
Her attacker then sexually assaulted her until he heard someone whistle from the hallway, according to the documents. He hid for a while and then left her cell.
During the investigation, a witness told police that an inmate had taken jail keys two days before the attack after a guard left her keys in the door. The keys were later returned to the guard, but an inmate kept a key.
In an interview with police, the guard admitted to losing control of her keys when she left them in a door. She told police she got them back and that they had all been accounted for.
Surveillance video from the jail shows that on the day of the attack, three inmates wandered freely about the lockup area between 2:40 a.m. and 4:30 a.m.
The video shows a guard escort the victim to her cell about 4 a.m.
After the guard leaves, the video shows one of the inmates and Jefferson leave their cells and go to the area of the victim’s cell. The inmate returns to his cell about 4:22 a.m. Jefferson returns to his cell about 5 a.m.
Crystal Williams, who chairs the Jackson County Legislature, said she remains “heartbroken about this whole thing” and has asked corrections officials to explain how such security lapses could have possibly occurred. So far she hasn’t gotten any answers, she said, but is confident the truth will come out.
Legislator Dennis Waits, who initiated the call for the audit, said he is also confused about the circumstances leading up to the assaults.
“It has been a little bit confusing because we have just gotten bits and pieces of things,” he said, adding that he hopes an outside auditor can make suggestions that will help ensure the safety of inmates in the future.
“You simply can’t have this happening,” he said.