Calif. nurse says lax jail security led to sexual assault by inmate

In a lawsuit, the nurse blames jail staff for creating an unsafe environment by not supervising inmates while in the infirmary


The following story contains descriptions of sexual assault from courthouse documents that may be traumatizing or upsetting to some readers. Discretion is advised.

By Robert Rodriguez
The Fresno Bee
        
FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. — A former nurse at the Fresno County Jail is suing the county for negligence after an inmate trapped her inside an exam room and sexually assaulted her while she screamed for help.

The nurse, who is identified as Doe M in the civil lawsuit, alleges she has suffered severe physical and emotional injuries from the Jan. 31, 2021 attack at the North Annex of the jail.

The attacker, Ivan Noel Castro, was prosecuted for the assault and was found to be mentally incompetent. He was sent to Napa State Hospital where nearly a year later he committed a similar assault on a staff nurse.

A view of the Fresno County Jail in 2016.
A view of the Fresno County Jail in 2016. (Silvia Flores/Fresno Bee/TNS)

Since 2020, Castro's arrest record includes charges for criminal threats, battery and dissuading a witness by force.

The nurse's lawyer Rene T. Sample of Fresno declined to comment on Friday as did Fresno County officials.

Police reports and court documents, however, provide a terrifying look at what happened to the nurse — and how two inmates and correctional officers rescued her from Castro.

The day of the incident, the nurse was working for Well Path, a health care company providing medical services at the jail. Between 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., three inmates, including Castro, were escorted by correctional officers to the infirmary waiting room.

The inmates were seeing the nurse for various health issues. A report by the Fresno County Sheriff's Office notes that there were no "correctional staff" present while the inmates were in the waiting room. The door leading into the exam room is propped open for the safety of the staff. But it's also self locking with no windows, the lawsuit states.

After one of the inmates was done being seen by the nurse, Castro told the other inmate in the waiting room to go next, but the inmate refused. Castro then got up and went inside the exam room. Quickly, he slammed the door shut, surprising the nurse.

"As Inmate Castro walked into the infirmary exam room, he forcefully shut the sound-proof self-locking door. PLAINTIFF told Inmate Castro he could not shut the door. Inmate Castro ignored PLAINTIFF'S command and began to remove his jumpsuit. PLAINTIFF immediately began yelling "OFFICERS! OFFICERS! OFFICERS!" and "HELP!'. While still screaming, PLAINTIFF attempted to run into the small bathroom hoping to be able to get inside and lock the door," the lawsuit states.

Castro, who stands about 6 feet and weighs 350 pounds, shut the bathroom door, preventing the nurse from getting away. He rushed towards her, clamping his arms around her in a bear hug. With one hand he began rubbing her private area over her clothes, the lawsuit states.

"With PLAINTIFF continually screaming for help, Inmate Castro threw her to the concrete floor. She landed on her face and knees. While PLAINTIFF was face down and continuing to scream for help, Inmate Castro straddled PLAINTIFF'S legs. Inmate Castro had his jumpsuit off and began rubbing his penis against PLAINTIFF'S buttocks while his full weight was pinning her against the floor, he continued to rub his genitals on her buttocks," the lawsuit states.

The inmates in the waiting jumped up after hearing the screams and tried to get the door open, but they couldn't. One of the inmates, according to the deputy's report, ran out into the hallway to alert other correctional officers who came rushing in. But they also couldn't get the door open without a key. After a few minutes someone found a key and opened the door.

It took several correctional officers to get Castro off of the nurse, who was traumatized by the attack, according to Sheriff's investigators.

In the nurse's lawsuit she blames the jail staff for creating an unsafe environment by not supervising the inmates while in the infirmary.

The Sheriff's Office report confirms no one was watching the inmates at the time of the assault. One of the correctional officers interviewed by investigators said she wasn't in the room, but was about 40 feet away.

"While waiting in the waiting room no Correctional Staff were standing guard while the inmates were in the waiting room," according to the Jan. 31 report.

The former nurse is seeking financial damages for past and future expenses for medical and psychological care, lost wages and/or earning capacity, as well as pain and suffering.

Deputy District Attorney Andrew Janz, who prosecuted Castro for the jail attack, said that to hear Castro attacked another nurse at the State Hospital in Napa was disappointing.

"I've personally spoken to the Fresno County Jail victim and it was clear that this was a traumatic incident for her. If two other inmates didn't come to the aid of the victim, the situation could have been much worse, Janz said. "Ivan Castro is a sexual predator with significant mental health issues and belongs off of our streets."

In the Napa case, Castro is accused of pushing one of the staff nurses into the women's room as she was exiting. Castro, put his hand over her mouth and forcibly grabbed her with his other arm.

The victim was able to get free long enough to pull her emergency alarm. Staff soon came and rescued her from Castro, according to a Napa State Hospital police report.

(c)2022 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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