At least 28 women are suing officials of the Clark County Jail in Jefferson, In., alleging that officials violated their civil rights by either intentionally or negligently allowing male inmates to gain access to their pods by giving them jail keys. Clark County Sheriff Jamey Noel and then-corrections officer David Lowe were sued in a pair of federal lawsuits for an incident that took place over two hours on October 24, the New York Times reports. “A sheriff at the jail — they have one job, and that’s to keep inmates safe and secure. And it’s just a complete, utter failure that allowed this to happen,” said Steve Wagner, a lawyer representing eight women. “And so we want answers as to how it happened.” Larry Wilder, an attorney for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, blamed the inmate-on-inmate attack on “the unforeseeable criminal actions of a rogue corrections officer” who abandoned his training and his morals when he gave inmates access to the jail keys. Corrections officer Lowe said he made a mistake that allowed male inmates to steal the keys that gave them access to the female pod. Lowe, 29, claimed it was an accident. He claimed he was “coerced and assaulted into making a false confession” about selling the keys to the inmates. Lowe, who was fired within days of the attack, has since been charged with felony official misconduct, helping an inmate escape and trafficking with an inmate.
Wilder challenged the female inmates’ claims implicating the agency, saying interviews with inmates have "yielded information that is in direct opposition to the allegations made in the civil lawsuit." According to one of the federal lawsuits, filed this week, Lowe took $1,000 on Oct. 23 in exchange for giving two male inmates access to keys that would allow them to roam freely through several restricted areas inside the jail. Lowe denied taking any money. The two inmates, joined by several other men, roved three pods where women were locked up, the suit alleges, attacking dozens of women. They groped women’s breasts and thighs, exposed themselves and threatened sexual assault. Two women were raped, the inmates allege. Even though the attack went on for more than two hours, no jail guards came to stop it. Wilder said the jail’s command staff learned of the attack the day after it happened from an inmate’s lawyer. “This investigation is not over and the Sheriff is committed to [ensuring] that nothing of this magnitude or scope [ever] occurs again,” he added. Wagner said that none of the male inmates have been charged in the attack, something he described as “a continuing insult to the women.” He hopes the legal process allows the women to get answers from the sheriff’s office about how the attack was possible.