Several women being held at a jail in southern Indiana have filed a federal lawsuit against corrections officers there, alleging they allowed a group of men in custody to rape, assault, threaten and harass the women.
Eight women listed as plaintiffs say Clark County Jail Officer David Lowe gave the men keys to the women's cells in exchange for $1,000 on the night of Oct. 23, 2021.
"Numerous male detainees" allegedly stayed in the women's pods for more than two hours, into the early morning of Oct. 24, according to the suit, which was filed Monday.
In those hours, the men covered their faces while verbally and sexually assaulting the women, and threatened to harm them further if they pressed the emergency call button, the suit says.
At least two women were raped, it says.
"Plaintiffs were injured and suffered serious bodily injuries, some of
which are permanent, pain and suffering, shock, extreme emotional distress, and humiliation," according to the complaint, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.
Lowe was arrested on Oct. 25 on charges of felony aiding, inducing, or causing escape; one count of felony official misconduct; and one count of misdemeanor trafficking with an inmate, according to the complaint.
He was immediately fired, Larry Wilder, the lawyer representing the Clark County Sheriff's Office said.
Sheriff's office blames a "rogue corrections officer"
In a statement to NPR, Wilder said, "The events of October 23rd were the result of the unforeseeable criminal actions of a rogue corrections officer. The individual in question chose to abandon his training, ethics, and morals and made the unilateral decision to mortgage his career and future by allowing inmates access to the jail keys."
The complaint also alleges that no officers on duty during the incident intervened, despite surveillance cameras that showed the men accessing the women's cell area.
The complaint says that instead of administering aid, officers punished the women. Officers allegedly revoked the women's "dark privileges" by leaving lights on for 72 hours, placed them on lockdown and confiscated their pillows, blankets and personal hygiene items.
Additionally, the missing keys were never found and the locks on the cells were not changed, causing the women to fear for their safety, according to the complaint.
Jail staff found out about the incident from a lawyer for one of the women in custody at Clark County Jail the next morning, Wilder said.
An investigation began immediately, in which security footage was reviewed, and interviews were conducted with corrections officers, male detainees and over 40 women incarcerated at the facility, Wilder said.
After Lowe's arrest, the Sheriff's Detective Division continued its investigation and found that "these interviews have yielded information that is in direct opposition to the allegations made in the civil lawsuit," Wilder said.
He added that "the investigation seems to indicate that there was a systematic plan by individuals who were incarcerated that evening to develop the narrative that makes up the crux of the claims in the civil case."
The lawsuit also blames the sheriff for the incident
Clark County Sheriff Jamey Noel is also listed as a defendant.
"The violation of the plaintiffs' constitutional rights was the result not only of a single bad actor, Lowe, but also due to a systemic failure on behalf of the Clark County Sheriff who failed to properly staff the jail, train the jail officers, and supervise the jail officers to make sure they maintained adequate security at the jail," the lawsuit says.
The women are suing for compensatory and punitive damages, as well as seeking a jury trial.
Wilder said the Clark County Sheriff's Office is taking the claims seriously and continues to investigate, while making physical changes to the facility and reviewing current procedures.
"This investigation is not over and the sheriff is committed to [ensuring] that nothing of this magnitude or scope [ever] occurs again," Wilder said. "However, the sheriff is equally committed to debunking those untruths that have been alleged by those who are attempting to reap financial gain from the crimes of David Lowe."