Police transferred all 23 female inmates out of the Jackson County Regional Correctional Center amid allegations that two detainees were sexually assaulted, and the county on Monday hired former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves to investigate.
No female inmates will return until the county addresses the problems that endangered the women, said Kansas City Manager Troy Schulte, who called for an immediate investigation into allegations that a woman was raped by three men and another was sexually assaulted. It was unclear whether the men were guards or inmates. One victim told police that guards raped her, but Jackson County officials said Sunday the men were not employees.
The allegations, which first surfaced publicly Sunday but among officials on Friday, shocked city and county officials. The city pays Jackson County more than $5 million a year to house municipal code violators at the correctional center.
“I am very, very upset,” said Crystal Williams, chairwoman of the Jackson County Legislature.
Kansas City Mayor Sly James and County Executive Frank White expressed shock in a joint statement Monday announcing the hiring of Graves to “conduct an independent and thorough investigation.
“We are both shocked and deeply troubled to learn of the recently alleged assaults at the Regional Correctional Center,” they said. “Those responsible will be held accountable, and all other necessary changes will be made swiftly. … However, those efforts will not be effective as long as misuses of power continue to exist.”
No arrests have been made, and Kansas City police continued their investigation of the assault allegations Monday.
“We are alarmed at this incident and concerned about the safety of city inmates and detainees held in the Jackson County jail,” Schulte said. “Additionally, the city is already working with the county to quickly address operational issues.”
Twelve female inmates were moved to the Platte County jail Saturday evening. Seven others had their signature bonds issued immediately so that they could be released, and two were released early, Schulte said. The two victims were being treated at a hospital.
Jackson County officials said they have conducted an internal review of the incident. One Jackson County legislator said some internal procedures were not followed.
“There was somebody not in a cell that should have been in a cell and had access to other cells, and I don’t know how that could happen,” said Legislator Dan Tarwater.
At Monday’s meeting of the County Legislature, Jackson County Department of Corrections Director Joe Piccinini said he learned of the incident Friday and police were called.
“We take this very seriously,” he said. “We are working diligently with law enforcement.”
He and other staffers told legislators they were unable to provide any details about what happened because they have no direct knowledge of the police investigation and are not far enough along on their own.
And County Counselor W. Stephen Nixon stressed the possibility of lawsuits being filed against the county. Later, he and legislators left the legislative chambers for a private meeting to discuss the county’s potential exposure.
“We don’t know what all the facts are,” Nixon said during the open session. “We don’t know exactly where this one ends up.”
County Executive White was not at the meeting because of a previous engagement and was represented by his chief of staff, Caleb Clifford, who said he and others had been working through the weekend to get a handle on what happened at the jail.
On Sunday, Jackson County officials released a written statement that said they were notified Friday about the allegations. They said that while no staff member had been accused of engaging in sexual contact with inmates, a staff member had been suspended without pay for potentially violating policies and procedures.
The Kansas City police report said an inmate told a police investigator that she was raped by three guards. The surveillance video of the time of the accusation showed three male inmates moving freely in the hallway between their cells and the victims’ cells. The victims’ cells were not fully on camera.
A second victim told police that a man, whom she believed to be a guard, entered her cell, kissed her and then grabbed and fondled her. The woman said she pushed the man off of her. The man became aggressive and continued to fondle the inmate.
The woman said she then heard a door open and someone whistle, and then the man ran out of her cell.
The first victim reported the rape to a case manager Friday evening. Just over a half-hour later, police arrived to investigate. They found that earlier in the day — not knowing a crime had occurred — corrections officers had “bio-cleansed” the cell of the first victim. The corrections officers reported finding the woman in her cell with ripped clothing and feces spread all over the cell, according to the police report.
The victim’s clothing was reportedly destroyed, and investigators were uncertain whether her underwear was changed and if she had showered.
The victim was taken to a nearby hospital for an examination.
Jackson County runs the Regional Correctional Center, a jail that houses adults with Kansas City municipal violations. Its average daily population last year was 139 inmates.
It holds far fewer inmates than its next door neighbor, the Jackson County Detention Center, which last year held an average of 780 adults a day on state charges. The Detention Center has been the target of an FBI investigation into physical abuse of inmates.
Graves, who served as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri from 2001 through 2006, conducted an independent investigation in 2011 into how the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph handled sex-crime allegations. He has a private law practice in Kansas City.
Reporter Mike Hendricks contributed to this report.