Court to hear appeal in Ohio officer's alleged sexual assault

Female inmate alleges that male officer fondled her breasts and warned, "I'll get you tomorrow, watch"


Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has agreed to consider reinstating a $625,000 judgment against Ohio prison officials who did nothing to prevent an officer's sexual assault of an inmate and then punished the victim.

The justices said Monday they will review a federal appeals court that threw out the award to Michelle Ortiz. The lower court had said the prison officials did not violate her constitutional rights. Another federal judge called the appellate decision a "legal travesty."

Ortiz was serving 12 months at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in November 2002 when she reported that a male officer fondled her breasts and warned, "I'll get you tomorrow, watch." He did, returning when Ortiz was asleep to molest her again.

When Ortiz discussed the attacks with other inmates, she was shackled and sent to solitary confinement.

She filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the officials and won a jury verdict.

But the appeals court in Cincinnati found by a 2-1 vote that one official, Paula Jordan, could not be held liable even though she did not take immediate action when Ortiz reported the first incident. The court said the other official, Rebecca Bright, did not violate Ortiz's rights by sending her to solitary confinement.

Bright and Jordan tried to get the case against them dismissed before the trial. A judge refused to do so and they did not appeal then. The legal issue in the case is whether they could wait until after the trial to appeal the judge's ruling.

It is extremely rare for a prison inmate's civil rights complaint to overcome preliminary legal obstacles and persuade a jury there was a violation, said Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey, the dissenting appeals court judge.

Given the statistics, Daughtrey said, "I view this result as a legal travesty."

The evidence against Bright and Jordan was strong, she said. "The majority's decision to overturn the jury's verdict strikes me not just as an unfortunate result in this case, but as one that is thoroughly senseless."

Arguments will take place in the fall.

The case is Ortiz v. Jordan and Bright, 09-737.

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