Current and former teen inmates who sued Michigan’s Department of Corrections for allegedly allowing them to be raped and sexually assaulted behind bars have been subjected to retaliation and further abuse from state employees, their attorneys say in court documents.
In a new lawsuit filed this week, the 12 John Doe plaintiffs allege all manner of reprisals against them — from corrections officers identifying them to other prisoners as both assault victims and as plaintiffs to the confiscation and destruction of evidence and personal items. The retaliation has included further physical assault, according to the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Ann Arbor.
John Doe 1, who was first incarcerated as a 17-year-old, claims his participation in the lawsuit led to corrections officers at Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility to target him. Officers allegedly searched through his documents relating to the litigation and announced over a prison loudspeaker that the prisoner was “HIV positive and needed to start his treatment,” according to court documents.
John Doe 2 claims he was subjected to increased searches of his cell and that officers confiscated his personal journal — containing details of abuse and harassment — and turned it over to the state attorneys defending Michigan’s Department of Corrections in the lawsuit.
Other plaintiffs had materials linked to the case taken from them, including John Doe 3, who was allegedly assaulted by corrections officers “on multiple occasions” following his participation in the lawsuit.
“One of the biggest concerns we had in bringing this case was that we didn’t want our clients to be harmed in any additional way... ,” said Jennifer Salvatore, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys. “We petitioned the court to be able to file as John Does because we were worried about retaliation from prison officials. Unfortunately, we think the defendants have not honored the terms of the protection order in not keeping the confidentiality of these prisoners.”
Chris Gautz, spokesman for Michigan’s Department of Corrections, said prison officials had not been served with the lawsuit yet and would not comment. Questions were referred to Attorney General Bill Schuette’s Office, where a spokeswoman said the department of the state’s top legal officer also had not yet received the complaint.
Michigan’s prison system, particularly its handling of teen inmates convicted as adults, has been in the cross-hairs since the first John Doe lawsuits were filed in 2013. The suits, proceeding on state and federal court tracks, alleged male teens were subjected to rapes as well as sexual and psychological abuse at the hands of adult inmates as well as prison officers.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued the state failed to protect a particularly vulnerable population as required under the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003.
Corrections officials and state attorneys have said they believe claims made in the original lawsuits are false, and they have been aggressive in their defense. In April, Schuette’s office filed a brief asking the courts for permission to identify John Does 8 through 11 in legal documents since they had been added later in the case and because the anonymity made it difficult for state investigators to research the claims.
In March, Schuette’s office made headlines when an assistant attorney general subpoenaed the notes of a journalist reporting on the case and the audio recording of a radio interview given by a plaintiffs’ attorney. Schuette apologized to the two journalists, said he didn’t know about the subpoenas and vowed “It will not happen again.”
This week’s lawsuit makes new complaints that again question how the state handles a vulnerable part of its prison population. The allegations of retaliation include:
■While at Bellamy Creek, John Doe 4 was “harassed by being issued a false sexual misconduct ticket, interference with attorney phone calls...”
■Corrections officers at Bellamy Creek also allegedly targeted John Doe 5, “telling him he should drop (the lawsuit) if he ever wanted to go home, refusing to call him out for his work and program details, and encouraging other prisoners to take action against him.”
■John Doe 5 also claimed an officer withheld food from him as an example to other inmates to “decide whether it’s worth it to snitch and sue MDOC.”
■An officer at Alger Correctional Facility supposedly targeted John Doe 9 by summoning him over the prison loudspeaker with “I need the rape victim to report to the bubble, this is a direct order.”
■At Cotton Correctional Facility, John Doe 10 returned from temporary segregation to find his legal “work, papers and property were taken.”
■John Doe 10 was also allegedly told “he wouldn’t have been assaulted if he wasn’t gay” and that “he should be ashamed” and “why was he still alive?” A different officer said he had been singled out for punishment because “you’re suing the state and you’re gay.”
The plaintiffs’ case against the Department of Corrections and others on the state track is awaiting a ruling from the Michigan Supreme Court concerning the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. The state’s Court of Appeals ruled prisoners are not protected by the law, which prohibits discrimination based on “religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status.”