Jury awards $20M to 4 women who claimed sexual abuse by ex-Missouri CO

No criminal charges have been filed against the officer

By Luke Nozicka
The Kansas City Star
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A federal jury in Kansas City has awarded $5 million to each of four women who alleged they were sexually abused by a guard at Chillicothe Correctional Center.

The $20 million verdict came after days of testimony this week in which the women said Edward Bearden sexually assaulted them at the women's prison in western Missouri, about 90 miles northeast of Kansas City.

Bearden, who worked for the Missouri Department of Corrections from 2008 to September 2018, denied the accusations.

No criminal charges have been filed against Bearden.

The trial began Monday before Chief U.S. District Judge Beth Phillips.

During opening statements Monday, one of the women's lawyers, Susan McGraugh, said Bearden considered the women's prison his "personal hunting ground." She said he would groom and compliment the prisoners, giving them items they were not allowed to have like soda; sexually harass them; isolate them into small spaces without cameras; and rape them.

Bearden's lawyers said the incidents never occurred and painted the women as not to be trusted.

Ashley Zieser was the first of four woman to testify during the trial.

It was in a warehouse, where Zieser was working, that she first encountered guard Bearden. He stopped her, grabbed his penis and said, "You know you want that," she said. It was just the beginning of his abuse, she told jurors hearing the civil case Monday.

Later, Zieser said, she was cleaning the administration building when Bearden told her to get the trash out of a break room, which she did. But then he came up behind her, slid his hands in her pants and assaulted her, she said.

"It felt like forever," Zieser told the jury seated in the federal courthouse in downtown Kansas City, before recounting additional allegations against Bearden.

McGraugh told the jurors about three other victims: Lynnsey Betz, who alleges Bearden pushed her against the wall of a cleaning closet and assaulted her; Karen Keil, who says Bearden raped her more than 20 times in a storage closet; and a fourth woman listed in court records as Jane Doe who alleges Bearden complimented her before he followed her into a room and forced her to perform oral sex.

Nicolas Taulbee, a lawyer with the Missouri Attorney General's Office, which is representing Bearden, told the jury the case was one of "who you believe" and said the allegations were not true.

"This did not happen," Taulbee said twice during his opening statement.

The women know each other and have convictions that include crimes of dishonesty, such as forgery and fraud, Taulbee said.

A verdict form signed Thursday showed jurors found in favor of $5 million in damages to each of the four women.

(c)2022 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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