By December 27, 2017 Read More →

West Virginia correctional officers accused of sexual abuse against female inmates

By LACIE PIERSON

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Three women say three correctional officers sexually abused them while they were in the state’s custody, according to three lawsuits filed in Kanawha County Circuit Court Tuesday.

At the time they say they experienced sexual harassment and abuse, two of the women were serving sentences with the Work Release Centers in Huntington and Charleston, and the third woman was an inmate at the Western Regional Jail, in Barboursville, according to the complaints filed in each lawsuit.

The male correctional officers named as defendants sexually harassed the women and made sexually exploitative comments to them and made remarks to the women “seeking sexual favors and engaged in sexual abuse” against them, according to the complaints.

In her lawsuit, Tania Cordwell says she suffered abuse from James Widen, of the Huntington Work Release Center.

A correctional officer from the Western Regional Jail whose last name is Westfall is named as a defendant in the lawsuit filed by Tabatha Gardner.

Brenda Williams-Bradley sued an employee of the Charleston Work Release Center whose last name is Deems.

In addition to the officers, the West Virginia Division of Corrections and unidentified superiors of each correctional officer are named as defendants in the lawsuits.

The lawsuits do not give a time frame in which the women were in the state’s custody and allegedly suffering the abuse claimed in the complaints.

Each lawsuit claims there is a “continuing practice and pattern of sexual harassment, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation” against women “at the hands of correctional staff,” toward which the West Virginia Regional Jail Authority and the state Division of Corrections have shown “deliberate indifference.”

Each woman says she suffered battery, assault and emotional distress from the correctional officers’ actions.

The women say division officials and the supervisors systematically violated their constitutional rights against cruel and unusual punishment and invasion of their personal security.

The women are seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

Huntington attorney and West Virginia Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, is representing each woman.

The lawsuits have been assigned to Kanawha Circuit Judges Tod Kaufman, Charles King and Duke Bloom.

Reach Lacie Pierson at lacie.pierson@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1723 or follow @laciepierson on Twitter.

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