Coffee Creek faces slew of sexual abuse lawsuits
Five former and current inmates of Coffee Creek Correctional Facility have submitted lawsuits against the Oregon Department of Corrections and various individuals employed by the department, citing alleged rape and sexual assaults perpetrated by former CCCF nurse Tony Klein.
The lawsuits each request at least $5 million from ODOC and $100,000 from each individual. Attorney Michelle Burrows, who is representing the plaintiffs with Leonard Williamson, said she likely will file a few more lawsuits in the coming month.
"Part of the reasoning of the totality of the lawsuits is (that) for 20 years this prison, Coffee Creek, has been promoting and facilitating a dangerous and sexually inviting atmosphere. There have been a number of controversies and investigations. One hundred or more women have been victimized or abused, three of my clients were forcibly raped and some were sodomized," Burrows said.
The lawsuits allege that between 2009 and 2018 Klein sexually abused at least 15 inmates of Oregon's only women's prison, which is located in Wilsonville. The women claim Klein took them into exam rooms or other private places and fondled, raped, sodomized and strangled them.
Klein, according to the lawsuit, targeted women with histories of molestation, abuse or rape.
"(For) some of the women, sexual assaults began as early as 5 or 6 (years old). He knew that about the women and played to their insecurities and weaknesses, pretending to build a sense of trust and he was able to get them alone," Burrows said.
ODOC Communications Manager Jennifer Black said the ODOC does not comment on pending litigation. However, in an email, she said: "The Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) takes all allegations of sexual assault very seriously. The agency is committed to adhering to the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which is set forth in DOC policy, and to its established code of conduct."
Among accusations, the lawsuits said that the "defendants failed to provide adequate supervision and training of staff, specifically male nurses. ODOC failed to comply with Health Services requirements and common standards within the medical profession that male providers not be alone with female patients/inmates."
In addition to asking for monetary penalties, the lawsuits also call for Coffee Creek to appoint a Special Master to "audit, review, interview and investigate the widespread issues alleged in this complaint" and for the prison to change management practices.
For example, it calls for more closely tracking movement throughout the prison, preventing male employees from being alone with female inmates, providing training to staff and management, and ensuring that inmates who file complaints don't suffer repercussions, among other changes.
"Plaintiff alleges that without aggressive federal court intervention and management, the situation at Coffee Creek will continue to worsen, no significant change will occur, and no prisoner will be safe," the lawsuits read.
Burrows also said that some staff members turned a blind eye to Klein's abuses and that Klein and other staff failed to document Klein's visits with the plaintiffs.
"We believe a lot of these people knew what was going on but chose to do nothing, which is almost like raping the women themselves," she
And the lawsuit states that the plaintiffs never received counseling required by the Prison Rape Elimination Act, were intimidated by staff and management and some feared they would lose privileges such as child visitation or admittance into rehabilitation programs if they came forward.
"While I have interviewed them, I've learned that particular officers in certain housing units will walk around and say, 'If I hear any of you have filed a PREA complaint I will start making your life hell,'" Burrows said.
Along with Klein, some of the individuals cited in the lawsuit include ODOC Director Colette Peters, ODOC PREA Coordinator Ericka Sage, Deputy Director Brian Belleque and former CCCF Superintendent Rob Persson.
Along with the money and policy changes, Burrows hopes the lawsuits shine a light on the problems that she believes are endemic at Coffee Creek.