Crime

'This man preys upon women': 3rd sex assault case filed against Missouri prison guard

Three former inmates at the Chillicothe Correctional Center say in federal lawsuits that a prison guard sexually assaulted them. One of them may have to go back there after the Missouri Attorney General filed a petition with the state’s highest court to have her original sentence reimposed.
Three former inmates at the Chillicothe Correctional Center say in federal lawsuits that a prison guard sexually assaulted them. One of them may have to go back there after the Missouri Attorney General filed a petition with the state’s highest court to have her original sentence reimposed. Google

A Missouri prison guard who is already accused of raping and sexually assaulting two female inmates is now facing an additional federal lawsuit from a third woman.

Ashley Marie Olsen Zieser says in her suit filed Monday that prison guard Edward Bearden cornered her on several occasions seeking sexual favors while she was an inmate at the Chillicothe Correctional Center, a prison for women.

She says the incidents in 2015-16 happened in a supply room, a guard break room, the male guard's locker room and even the administrative office of the warden.

The suit accuses Bearden of putting his fingers in Zieser's vagina and of trying to force her to perform oral sex. When she refused, the suit says, Bearden pushed her to the floor and grabbed her hair. He let her go when she screamed, the suit says.

Zieser, 33, says Bearden also instructed her to write notes of a sexual nature and place them in his locker. Zieser says she wrote one note telling Bearden to leave her alone.

Zieser says she did not report the attacks to prison officials because she did not think she would be believed. In addition, she says, inmates who complain of sexual assaults are placed in solitary confinement and cut off from family contact. Zieser was in the work-release program and was afraid of losing that privilege, she says.

The latest lawsuit also names as a defendant Vevia Sturm, who is identified as the Prison Rape Elimination Act supervisor for the Missouri Department of Corrections.

"Other prison officials knew or should have known (Bearden) was sexually assaulting (Zieser) and did nothing to prevent or stop the attacks," the suit says.

This is the third federal lawsuit in just over a month to accuse Bearden and other prison officials of wrongdoing. He has not yet responded to the lawsuits.

One woman alleges Bearden raped her more than 20 times. She says she told a mental health counselor at the prison about it but that he then sexually assaulted her, as well.

That counselor, John Thomas Dunn, denied the allegations. But he pleaded guilty in state court to sexually assaulting a separate inmate and was sentenced last month to four years in prison. The judge suspended the execution of the sentence other than 120 days of shock time. Dunn will remain on probation for five years.

Another woman inmate says Bearden sexually assaulted her in a supply closet at the Chillicothe prison, causing her to bleed from her vagina.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections has declined to comment on pending litigation but said that Bearden is scheduled to retire soon.

The three plaintiffs, who have all been released from the Department of Corrections, are represented by the same attorneys from the Saint Louis University Legal Clinic and the St. Louis firm of Kamykowski, Gavin and Smith. The lawsuits were filed in federal court in Kansas City.

The women jointly called Monday for the Department of Corrections to remove Bearden from his job.

"We are very concerned about the women who remain incarcerated at the Chillicothe Correctional Center," Karen Keil, the first plaintiff, said in a statement. "This man preys upon women who have nowhere to turn, and who get punished if they report an assault. He should be removed from the prison immediately."

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