ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A federal jury Thursday ordered over $3 million in damages to three former inmates raped by a prison guard at Camino Nuevo Women’s Correctional Facility in 2007.
The intertwined state and federal claims, coupled with questions about who must pay the compensatory and punitive damages, however, are certain to engender more litigation – probably from both sides.
Jurors heard over a week of testimony before U.S. District Judge William P. Johnson before they were charged with rendering a verdict late Wednesday.
It took the jury a day to work through the 10-page verdict form with over 30 questions relating to victims Heather Spurlock, Nina Carrera and Sophia Carrasco, and two sets of defendants. They included former guard Anthony Townes, who is serving a 16-year state prison sentence for criminal sexual penetration and false imprisonment, his then-employer Corrections Corporation of America and Barbara Wagner, the warden of Camino Nuevo at the time.
The court had ruled before trial that Townes was liable for violating the constitutional rights of the inmates to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.
But he left it to the jury to decide if CCA and Wagner were liable for negligent supervision – the jury said yes – and whether they also had violated the inmates’ rights by discouraging inmate complaints – the jury said no.
Jurors awarded $100,000 in compensatory damages each to Spurlock and Carrera, and $125,000 to Carrasco.
They ordered CCA to pay $5,000 in punitive damages to Spurlock and $50,000 in punitive damages to Carrasco.
Townes’ attorney Michael Jahner said he had no comment after the verdict, and Aaron Viets, local counsel for CCA and Wagner, referred questions to lead attorney Daniel Struck of Phoenix.
Paul Kennedy, who with Nicole Moss represented the rape victims, said after the verdict that his clients “feel like they’ve been vindicated by the jury.”
“The substantial recovery,” he said, “is sending a signal to the private prison industry that these practices must stop or they face more serious consequences in the future.”
Although the court ruled that CCA was not responsible for Townes’ actions, which were outside the scope of his employment, Kennedy said a state law dealing with private prisons requires the contractor to “assume all liability caused by or arising out of all aspects of the provision or operation of the facility.”
Kennedy and Moss said they believe there were other victims of Townes who did not come forward. The plaintiffs testified about seeing Townes taking female inmates in their nightgowns out of their cells at night.
Others didn’t come forward out of fear of the consequences, Moss said. “That’s why these three women were amazing that they were able to speak up.”
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal