Lawsuit says S. Carolina prisons ignore inmate rape reports

Lawsuit says S. Carolina prisons ignore inmate rape reports
Deputies respond to attempted jail break in Orangeburg County (Source: AP)

By JEFFREY COLLINS, Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina prison officials don't do enough to try to stop sexual assaults behind bars, three inmates say in a lawsuit.

The complaint covers adults in the Corrections Department and teen who are kept at the Department of Juvenile Justice prisons.

The inmates are asking that their lawsuit eventually include any inmate who has been sexually attacked behind bars since 2012 and hasn't already sued the agency.

"I think there's going to be tons of people involved in this," said attorney Carter Elliott, who helped filed the suit Monday.

One juvenile inmate said he was assaulted with a broomstick and someone forged his signature on a document saying he didn't want to press charges against his attackers, according to court papers.

Elliott didn't have a specific number of inmates he thinks have been assaulted. But he said lawyers and investigators have talked to multiple prisoners who said officials fail to screen inmates to figure out which ones are more likely to be predators, allow inmates who are predators to sometimes choose their cellmates and ignore or don't fully investigate sexual assault complaints.

The Corrections Department said it would respond to the lawsuit in later court filings. The Department of Juvenile Justice did not respond.

Last summer, South Carolina settled a decade-old lawsuit over how it treats mentally ill prisoners, agreeing to spend $7 million more a year to bring in more employees and increase monitoring and screening for mental illness.

Elliott said state prisons must do similar things to curb sexual assaults, saying understaffed prisons make it too easy for inmates to be attacked without anyone noticing.

"We hope that this lawsuit will cause them to take ownership of their mistakes, repair their broken system and help prevent additional sexual assaults. We also hope that those who have needlessly suffered will be afforded restitution for the injuries that could have been avoided," Elliott said.

The two adult inmates are identified by name in the complaint. Elliott said they felt it was important to be identified to bring attention to the problem.

Daniel Collins said he was raped by his cellmate after the prisoner sneaked up and injected him an unknown drug that left him unconscious, according to the lawsuit.

Collins, who started serving 15 years for first-degree burglary out of Charleston County in August 2014, said in the lawsuit he asked prison officials to not put him in the same cell with his attacker.

He also said he was examined and a rape kit for evidence was collected after he reported the attack, but no arrests were made, according to the lawsuit.

A second adult inmate, Jason Robinson, said he has been kept in the general prison population despite reporting he was sexually assaulted several times, according to court papers.

In the lawsuit, Robinson said he didn't get help until he finally called the Corrections Department's crisis hotline.

Robinson, who started serving five years for second-degree burglary out of York County in September 2015, said investigators interviewed him about the attacks and took pictures of his injuries, but then returned him to the general population, where he was raped and stabbed, according to the lawsuit.

Elliott said charges do not appeared to have been filed in any of the cases in the lawsuit.

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