Alone and scared: Former Missouri prison guard testifies about sexual harassment in KC

A former Missouri prison guard testified Tuesday that she felt alone, nervous and scared after other guards allegedly sexually harassed and retaliated against her at a Kansas City prison.

Ana Barrios of Kansas City has sued the for the Missouri Department of Corrections, alleging the discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation inflicted upon her was “continuous, ongoing, unbroken adopted as a pattern and practice” of the corrections department, according to court documents.

A jury trial in the case got underway this week in Jackson County Circuit Court.

The lawsuit alleges sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination based on gender, race and disability.

Barrios was hired by the corrections department in September 2014 as a probation and parole assistant at it’s facility in the West Bottoms at 651 Mullberry Street, according to court documents.

At the time, it was known as the Kansas City Community Release Center.

The alleged sexual harassment began as early as February 2015, according to court documents.

In September 2015, she was promoted to a corrections officer, according to court documents. At the same time, the facility was turned into a minimum-security prison, housing inmates nearing parole. It was renamed the Kansas City Re-Entry Center.

At the celebration of the facility’s change to a prison, a fellow guard burnt some hot dogs and mentioned that Barrios liked her hot dogs “really burnt,” Barrios testified Tuesday.

Barrios didn’t hear the comment at the time. But when she was told about it later she took it as discriminatory and sexually harassing because she was dating a black man, Barrios testified.

Barrios testified about other comments, including being called “bitch,” “whore” and other derogatory names.

The Missouri prison system has faced staffing shortages in recent years and has tried to recruit more guards.

As of last year, the system was 11 percent understaffed, officials said.

crossroads prison billboard.jpg
A billboard facing northbound traffic on Interstate 35 near Kearney advertises the state’s efforts to hire more staff for Crossroads Correctional Center some 30 miles north in Cameron, Mo. Joe Robertson The Kansas City Star

Complaint filed

After she filed a complaint in June 2015, co-workers retaliated against her. At a meeting in July 2015, a human resource representative downplayed her concerns and said Barrios likely misunderstood the comments made by her co-workers, according to court documents.

Barrios testified that she felt that the human resource representative was not listening to her and that a decision was already made prior to the meeting.

Barrios testified that because of the harassment and names she was being called, she altered how she prepared for work. She said she would leave for work an hour earlier because the stress had caused her to have a nervous stomach. She wanted to allow extra time in case she needed to stop on the way to use a bathroom.

Her doctor increased her medicine to help deal with the anxiety, Barrios testified.

The suit describes other instances of alleged retaliation, harassment and hostile work environment including a radio check by her not being acknowledged and the filing of a false claim that she was behaving in an inappropriate way with an inmate.

The claim was allegedly filed by a friend of a guard she had accused of harassment, according to court documents.

Because of the discrimination, harassment, retaliation and hostile work environment, Barrios resigned in February 2016. She learned later that three of guards who had allegedly harassed her had been suspended and were not expected to return, according to court documents.

She was re-employed in March 2016, resigned in July 2016 alleging sexual harassment, retaliation, and discrimination based on her gender, race and disability, according to court documents.

The harassment allegedly continued after she left, with guards alleging that while she was employed at the prison, she slept with offenders, smuggled in drugs and worked on behalf of a Hispanic gang at the prison, according to court documents.

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Robert A. Cronkleton gets up very early in the morning to bring readers breaking news about crime, transportation and weather at the crack of dawn. He’s been at The Star since 1987 and now contributes data reporting and video editing.