An Illinois woman was recently awarded more than $19 million in a federal institutional abuse lawsuit she brought against her prison counselor at Logan Correctional Center, who she says raped and sexually assaulted her for seven months during her prison sentence. Last week, the federal jury deliberated for four hours before returning the verdict in favor of the plaintiff, who used the pseudonym Jane Doe.
The record-setting jury award included $8 million in compensatory damages and $11.3 million in punitive damages against prison counselor Richard Macleod, head prison investigator Todd Sexton, and Logan Correctional Center warden Margaret Burke. According to reports, Macleod is responsible for paying $10 million of Doe’s total punitive damages award, while Sexton will pay $800,000 in punitive damages, and Burke will pay $500,000.
Prison Officials Abused Positions of Power
According to her complaint, Jane Doe served a prison sentence with the state Department of Corrections from March 2015 to July 2018. For most of that prison sentence, Doe was housed at Logan Correctional Center in Logan County, Illinois. Her prison counselor there, Richard Macleod, was responsible for setting up and supervising weekly, court-approved phone calls between Doe and her daughter, among other duties.
Doe states in her lawsuit that Macleod sexually assaulted and harassed her during those weekly interactions. She claims that he routinely exposed himself to her and made sexual remarks while she spoke to her daughter. She alleges that he coerced her to have nonconsensual sex on two occasions, and on two other occasions, coerced her to perform nonconsensual oral sex on him. Doe filed her lawsuit in 2018, alleging that the abuse she experienced at Logal Correctional Center was a violation of her constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.
In August 2017, after being notified of the alleged abuse by an unknown source, head prison investigator Todd Sexton interviewed Doe about her experience with Macleod. Frightened of suffering retaliation, Doe declined to inform Sexton of the abuse. She eventually discussed Macleod’s behavior with Sexton but was then involuntarily transferred to another prison facility. There, she was unable to immediately resume her weekly phone calls with her daughter, see her family as often, or continue the cosmetology courses she was taking at the Logan facility.
Institutional Abuse Goes Unchecked in Prison Facilities
Doe’s attorneys argued that work emails revealed during the trial demonstrated to the court that Macleod’s harassment and abuse was a pattern. Upon hearing one of Macleod’s emails read aloud at trial, even Sexton testified that he thought the prison counselor was a “sexual predator.” However, while investigating Doe’s alleged abuse, Sexton never looked into Macleod’s emails, trying instead to catch Macleod in the act of abusing Doe. Doe alleges in her lawsuit that Sexton failed to follow the proper protocol to investigate reports of prison sex abuse under the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act.
Doe initially asked for $5 million to settle her institutional abuse claim. According to Doe’s legal team, prison officials responded by offering a paltry $10,000. Settlement negotiations were ultimately unsuccessful – the state’s highest settlement offer was $50,000, Doe’s attorneys noted – and the case proceeded to trial. Doe’s legal team set out to raise awareness about the systemic issue of sexual abuse and rape in prison, and as they put it, the jury “sent a resounding message” with its $19.3 million award.
“On one hand, I’m really hopeful and really proud that this will be something that sparks some change, and on the other hand, I’m really nervous that it won’t be,” said Doe’s attorney. “I love what we were able to do for Jane Doe, but I think this should have a broader impact than that, and I hope the [U.S. Attorney General’s] office, the police and investigators at every prison are taking notice of this and are going to do something about this system because it’s unreal. This is the only part I know how to do. Somebody else needs to do the rest, and I hope they do.”