OSBI: Jail staff didn't force inmates
BY CARY ASPINWALL World Staff Writer & ZIVA BRANSTETTER World Enterprise Editor
Sunday, December 11, 2011
12/28/11 at 4:01 PM
What happened to Edie?
A letter written to Edwina King before she died details some of the horrors female inmates at the Delaware County jail reportedly endured, the reasons behind a $13.5 million settlement for the federal civil rights lawsuit against the county.
The lawsuit alleges they were raped, sexually assaulted, groped and forced to expose themselves in the county jail and during transports to medical appointments. The $13.5 million lawsuit settlement was announced in November, and Sheriff Jay Blackfox resigned two days later.
Blackfox maintained he had no knowledge of any sexual misconduct by his staff. He is not accused in the lawsuit of taking part in sexual misconduct but is alleged to have known about abuse and taken no action.
Bill Sanders Sr., who died in November 2008 at age 63, and Lonnie Hunter, former jail administrator, were at the center of most of the allegations in the lawsuit. Hunter was fired the same week the lawsuit settlement was announced.
"We were sexually assaulted by one of the deputy's (sic)," the women wrote in July 2008 in a letter to King. The letter says the inmates heard that one deputy had been investigated for several months, but that "even after we told Jay Blackfox," that deputy was still allowed to transport women.
One of the women who wrote the letter reported that she was repeatedly groped and assaulted by Sanders, a volunteer transport deputy, during trips to her doctor's office.
He told her that his family was in law enforcement in nearby Disney and Langley, and if she said a word, "they would get rid of her."
During another trip, Sanders groped and kissed a pregnant inmate while trying to shove her hands down his pants, court records allege.
"Sanders told (her) that she could not tell anyone about anything he did, because if she did, he could make her jail time worse and once she got out of jail, he would see to it that (she) got into more trouble," according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges Sanders sexually assaulted several inmates while they were handcuffed.
Delaware County jailers would reportedly bargain with the female inmates, forcing them to show their breasts in exchange for cigarettes, cupcakes, candy and personal items. Jailers would watch the women coming in and out of the showers, and at night, male employees would come into the cells and grope the female inmates, court records show.
The lawsuit alleges female plaintiffs were threatened to keep quiet or face retaliation by jail employees.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs say an OSBI report based on Blackfox's investigation concluded that the jail employees did not force themselves on the women, but Oklahoma statutes mandate that any state, federal, county or municipal employee who has sexual intercourse with an inmate is guilty of rape. Inmates can't legally consent to sexual acts with a jailer.
The OSBI report is among many sealed documents in the court file.
District Attorney Eddie Wyant, who did not defend or represent the county in the settlement, has said an OSBI probe into Hunter's alleged criminal actions is ongoing.
Delaware County officials recently named a new sheriff, Rick Littlefield. Shortly after taking office, he conducted a sweep of the jail, searching for contraband and saying, "it's part of the cleaning house process."
Original Print Headline: Inmates' claims led to $13.5 million deal
Cary Aspinwall 918-581-8477
Ziva Branstetter 918-581-8306
The letter the prisoners in the Delaware County jail sent to Edwina King asking for her help dealing with alleged incidents of sexual assault. The county settled a lawsuit involving the allegations.