A federal appeals court on Friday re-instated a lawsuit filed by a former Kansas prison inmate after she was sexually assaulted by a prison staff member.
The 43-year-old woman was serving a Johnson County sentence for a drug crime at the Topeka Correctional Facility when she was sexually assaulted in 2007.
When he learned of the assault, the warden referred the case to Topeka police, and the staff member was prosecuted in state court and pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual relations and trafficking in contraband.
But the woman later filed a civil lawsuit in federal court alleging that the warden and other prison officials violated her constitutional rights by creating an environment that fostered sexual misconduct by employees.
A judge dismissed the suit against the warden, but the woman appealed, and Friday the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in her favor.
In Friday’s ruling, the court found that the woman should be allowed to argue to a jury that the practices of prison officials “created an atmosphere where employees, particularly maintenance employees, faced minimal supervision and little threat of investigation or discipline for inappropriate sexual behavior with inmates.”
Although the prison had formal policies prohibiting sexual misconduct, “the evidence raises questions about whether those policies were being followed or enforced,” according to the appeals court.
According to its ruling, the court found that there was sufficient evidence to present to a jury alleging that the warden was “aware of but failed to address a substantial risk that his employees would engage in sexual misconduct and thereby harm TCF (Topeka Correctional Facility) inmates.”