In the suit, plaintiffs Christy Ann Cantu and Angelica Marissa Ramos are seeking an undisclosed amount of damages from the county for their constitutional violations, physical pain, lost wages and more.
The three jailers pleaded guilty to two counts of improper sexual activity with a person in custody each, and all three are currently serving their time.
The sexual assaults took place on an overnight shift between Aug. 20-21, 2010.
There are several points made in the case that indicate that county was negligent in its actions and allowed for the sexual assaults to take place and the county was not doing everything in its power to protect its prisoners.
During that shift, there were four male guards on duty to guard the prisoners. All the guards were male.
The sexual assaults against the woman were numerous and repeated throughout the overnight shift.
While one of the women reported the incident the following night and received medical attention, the suit claims that the other plaintiff was denied medical attention and that jailers ignored complaints about sexual advances by guards in the past.
The suit claims that the defendants repeatedly violated the plaintiffs’ Fifth, Eighth and/or 14th Amendment rights.
The Progress spoke with Live Oak County Sheriff Larry Busby last week, and he answered questions about the suit.
According to the sheriff, neither woman was refused treatment; however, one of the women did intentionally deny the events happened.
“She denied it initially, and finally, after the jail administrator had talked to the other girl and talked to the guys and said, ‘Now look, we got it on video, and the guys admitted it, so you might as well tell us the truth,’ she finally told her part,” Busby said.
He said at his request she was taken to the doctor later.
Busby also said that there have been no formal complaints about inappropriate sexual advances by these jailers and that there is a zero tolerance policy if something is reported and later deemed to be true.
The only incident that even came to mind for Busby happened several years ago when the county was still using the old jail.
“We had a lady complain, and it was just that the jailer said some stuff that he shouldn’t have said when he was taking her to use the phone,” Busby explained.
The woman also claimed that the guard touched her rear end on the elevator.
“We did the investigation, and because he did say something that was off-color, we terminated him; we have zero tolerance, basically.”
In addition to their being previous claims about sexual advances by jailers, the suit also said that “written policies instituted by the Live Oak County jail allow female inmates to be supervised exclusively by male guards. No female officer was required on duty for female inmates.”
Busby said that there is no rule in place by the jail commission that says that a female must guard female prisoners. But he has a rule for his jail.
“My rule for my jail was I always wanted a female on the staff, and this particular night, the female called in sick, so we had to call someone else in,” he said.
He claims that, typically, there is always a female on duty. His current staff consists of six female guards and 13 male guards. This does not include the kitchen or nursing staff.
The suit claims that the county “failed to adequately screen potential hires or conduct background checks to ensure the safety of the inmates, and did not adequately train or supervise its employees to prevent incidents of sexual assault from occurring.”
Busby believes the jail has a very thorough hiring process.
“When you first hire them they have to be screened; background checks, physical exams, psychological exams, then a jailer has to be licensed,” Busby said. “He (the new hire) can work up to one year in a jail without the license but must be supervised by a licensed jailer.”
The licence the jailer is required to obtain is the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officers Standards and Education or TCLEOSE. Busby said they encourage jailers to get their license right away and that jailers who have their license are paid more so that helps motivate people to finish the process quickly.
Two of three jailers had multiple years experience in the jail and had also worked with TDCJ. The third jailer was trying to become a police officer for the Beeville Police Department.
Busby believes that his department screens the jailers properly and the three had received the proper training. When asked if he thought the county was negligent in its hiring process and operations, he said no.
“No, I mean, how do you prevent that? You can prevent everything but stupidity,” he said. “Just like if a deputy goes out and robs a bank, how could we see that coming and prevent that?”
Busby said once an outcry was made by one of the plaintiffs and there was an inkling that something happened, the department launched an investigation.
“As soon as the outcry was made, they were put on suspension,” he said.
Once statements were taken and it was established that a criminal act had taken place, he called the Texas Rangers to take over the investigation.
“We could have investigated it the same way the rangers did, but there would always be that shadow that we were bound to cover up something somewhere,” he said.
Calling the rangers was the most unbiased way to handle the investigation. Busby also said he went to the judge once the statements were collected and filed them the judge; then the judge issued warrants, and the jailers were called to turn themselves in.
The suit also claims that the placement of the cameras was poor; Busby disagrees with that.
There are two cameras in the hallway where the woman were in the cells. He said the video footage showed the guards in front of the doors with hands through a food slot.
“It happened, and it was easy for us to determine something happened; all we had to do was turn on the cameras and look,” Busby said.
At the time, there were no cameras in the actual cells, but since then the jail has been upgraded, and there are now cameras in all the cells as well as additional cameras in the halls.
Ron Armstrong, attorney for the women, feels the case against the county and the jailers is strong.
He believes he will be able to find additional women to come forward and say that they too were sexually assaulted by guards while in the jail.
He filed an open records request for the list of female inmates who were incarcerated in the county in the last 10 years and is currently contacting them to see if other have experienced similar situations to Cantu and Ramos, and were just scared to come forward before.
Additionally, in the copy Armstrong obtained of the Texas Ranger’s report, there is a name of another woman who could have been sexually assaulted on another occasion.
Armstrong has until June 2013 to add plaintiffs to the civil suit, and the case is scheduled to go to trial if a settlement is not reached by Aug. 31.