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Behind Bars

[whitespace] Inmate sexual-misconduct complaints surface at Sonoma County Jail

By Paula Harris

KELLY JACKSON, 21, alleges that correctional officers shackled her and pushed her into a wheelchair to be transported to the courtroom (she was pregnant at the time). When she objected, a struggle ensued and she fell. According to Jackson, about six male correctional officers then jumped on top of her as she lay on her stomach and someone pulled down her pants and underpants. "I started struggling," says Jackson, who's filed a complaint with the county. "By the time a female nurse came in, my pants were halfway down my buttocks. I felt ashamed, scared, and humiliated," she says.

She is just one of several former female inmates at the Sonoma County Jail who claim that they were victims of sexual misconduct by correctional officers at the facility.

In another alleged incident, former inmate Megan Brooks, 18, says she physically fought with female corrections officers who were attempting to conduct a strip search in front of male officers. "They took off my pants with guys there," she says. "They did it to embarrass me."

Assistant Sheriff Sean McDermott, who heads the jail, says an investigation of Jackson's complaint determined she had resisted the staff and that her clothes had come down in the struggle to restrain her. He adds that strip searches are never conducted with members of the opposite sex present. 'I've looked it over, and I'm satisfied everything was done appropriately," he says.

"People are treated fairly and equally in terms of the guidelines of our policies and procedures."

A report issued last week by Amnesty International did not comment on local allegations but found that forms of sexual abuse on female inmates "are widespread in U.S. prisons and jails."

The Sonoma County Jail made news last year, when it was discovered that male correctional officers were downloading pornography on the jail's computers while on duty. Sources say that nearly 50 guards were investigated. Two subsequently were fired as a result of the probe.

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From the March 11-17, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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