FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DENVER-- An employee of a private prisoner transport company sexually assaulted a woman during a four-day trip and threatened to shoot her if she reported him, the American Civil Liberties Union charged today in a lawsuit that highlights the disturbing trend of sexual abuse and harassment of women prisoners by correctional staff.
Robin Darbyshire, 41, "still experiences physical symptoms, nightmares and severe emotional distress because of a van ride that occurred almost one year ago," said Craig Cowie, a staff attorney with the ACLU's National Prison Project.
"The private extradition business operates in the shadows, out of the public view, and with almost no government regulation," added Cowie. "We're bringing this suit to shine a light on this shady industry, where some of the worst abuses of prisoners occur."
The case arose when Extraditions International took custody of Darbyshire in Carson City, Nevada on May 13, 2001, in order to transport her to a Colorado jail. During the four-day van trip with two male officers and other, mostly male, prisoners, an Extraditions International guard sexually harassed and threatened to kill Darbyshire and another female prisoner.
On one of the few van stops where prisoners were permitted to use the restroom, the driver, Richard Almendarez, brought Ms. Darbyshire to the bathroom and told her to lie down on the floor facing him, the ACLU complaint said. The 325-pound officer, who was armed, ordered her to expose her breasts and lift up her skirt. He then masturbated while standing above her and ejaculated onto her breasts. Almendarez told Darbyshire that if she screamed he would shoot her and claim that she tried to escape.
"The humiliating and abusive treatment Robin Darbyshire endured at the hands of this private, for-profit company shocks the conscience," said David C. Fathi, an ACLU National Prison Project attorney and co-counsel in the case. "Despite her complaint during a stop at the Extraditions International office in Commerce City, Colorado, the company placed this woman back in the van with a driver whom they knew had sexually harassed and threatened to kill her."
According to the ACLU complaint, Almendarez also repeatedly asked the women prisoners to sit on his lap and tell him "X-rated" bed-time stories. He called Darbyshire a "slut" and asked her, "You like sucking big dick, don't you?" While near the Mexican border, Almendarez suggested that he would take the women to a Mexican hotel and "fuck" them and then shoot them.
The final two hours of the trip with Officer Almendarez were terrifying. Darbyshire overheard Almendarez say that he should have "blown her head off" because she would not "give him any." Darbyshire only escaped from the abusive treatment when the van she was traveling in broke down and she was placed in a van with different drivers for the rest of the trip.
Another private extradition company, Transcor, recently settled a lawsuit with the ACLU of Colorado over similar allegations of sexual assault against a woman it transported. However most incidents of sexual assault and abuse of women prisoners go unreported because of fear of retaliation by correctional staff and the vulnerability felt by prisoners, the ACLU said.
Although comprehensive national statistics on the number of prisoners sexually victimized by correctional staff are not available, separate investigations conducted by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the U.S. General Accounting Office and the United Nation's Commission on Human Rights all conclude that incidents of sexual abuse and assault in U.S. prisons and jails are widespread.
The GAO report, Women in Prison: Sexual Misconduct by Correctional Staff, found that from 1990 to 1995 class action or individual damage suits relating to sexual misconduct had been filed against at least 23 departments of correction. Amnesty International's 2001 survey, Abuse of Women in Custody: Sexual Misconduct and Shackling of Pregnant Women, reported allegations of sexual abuse of female prisoners by correctional staff in almost every correctional system in the country.
"With this lawsuit, the ACLU is putting the corrections system on notice that they will be held legally and financially accountable for the sexual abuse and assault of prisoners," Cowie said. "We are investigating other incidents and we expect to file additional lawsuits in the coming weeks and months."
Today's lawsuit, Robin Darbyshire v. Extraditions International, Inc. was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado by Cowie and Fathi of the ACLU's National Prison Project and Mark Silverstein of the ACLU of Colorado.
To read a copy of the complaint filed in this case please go to:
A fact sheet on the sexual abuse of prisoners follows.
Sexual Abuse of Prisoners
Robin Darbyshire, a pretrial detainee, was threatened with death, sexually harassed and sexually assaulted while in the custody of Extraditions International, a private prisoner transport company. An armed, 325 pound officer physically restrained Robin Darbyshire in a restroom. He forced her to expose her breasts and lift up her skirt. He then masturbated while standing above her and then ejaculated onto her breasts. The officer told the prisoner if she screamed he would shoot her and claim that she tried to escape.
Allegations like Robin Darbyshire's are not unusual. However, comprehensive national statistics on the number of prisoners sexually victimized by correctional staff do not exist. Separate investigations conducted by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), and the United Nation's Commission on Human Rights all conclude that incidents of custodial sexual misconduct in U.S. prisons and jails are widespread.
The GAO's report, Women in Prison: Sexual Misconduct by Correctional Staff, found that from 1990 to 1995 class action or individual damage suits relating to sexual misconduct had been filed against at least 23 departments of correction. Please go to: http://www.gao.gov/.
Amnesty International's 2001 survey, Abuse of Women in Custody: Sexual Misconduct and Shackling of Pregnant Women, discovered reported allegations of sexual abuse of female prisoners by correctional staff in every correctional system, except Minnesota's. Please go to: http://www.amnestyusa.org/women/custody/abuseincustody.html
According to the GAO's investigation of Texas, California and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, female prisoners reported at least 506 claims of staff-on-prisoner sexual misconduct from1995 to1998.
Despite these numerous complaints, most incidents of custodial sexual misconduct go unreported because of fear of retaliation by correctional staff and the vulnerability felt by prisoners. In interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch for their report, All too Familiar: Sexual Abuse of Women in U.S. State Prisons, women cited their hesitation in filing complaints about staff. Please go to: http://www.hrw.org/summaries/s.us96d.html. One California prisoner told Human Rights Watch, "my friend tried to get me to go tell. I wouldn't do it, out of fear. I envisioned them putting me in the hole [segregation]. People were thrown in the hole there all the time, for anything."
Many times when women do report sexual assaults their complaints are ignored by prison officials and no decisive action is taken against the accused officers, discouraging other women from making complaints. Human Rights Watch's investigation in Illinois uncovered numerous allegations of sexual assaults perpetrated by one corrections officer on several women. Prisoners and staff at the facility were well aware of the officer's reputation but no disciplinary action was taken against him. Speaking about a similar situation, one Illinois prisoner told Human Rights Watch, "Seeing him everyday showed me what they thought about it."
The trauma and intimidation experienced by female prisoners victimized by staff is not surprising. A 1999 U.S. Department of Justice study found that half of all women in prison, jail or on probation had been abused prior to incarceration. One third of women in state prisons and a quarter of those in local jails had been raped before incarceration. Please go to: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/parip.pdf. Many women in prison have been victimized throughout their lives. Unfortunately, once they enter the prison system their exploitation continues. They have little reason to believe that the corrections system can or will protect them.