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3 women sue Washington County over alleged sexual abuse at Purgatory Correctional Facility

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Posted at 4:48 PM, Apr 29, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-29 18:48:37-04

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Utah – A former deputy and the Washington County sheriff are among those named in a lawsuit seeking at least $500,000 in punitive damages that alleges three inmates at Washington County’s Purgatory Correctional Facility were sexually assaulted and that the sheriff and county authorities did not do enough to prevent that alleged abuse.

Steven Garret Thayer was arrested in 2013 for alleged sexual misconduct while on the job in his capacity at the correctional facility, and a lawsuit filed April 24 sheds new light on the man’s alleged actions and the procedures at the jail.

The complaint lists Washington County, Thayer and Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher and several John Does as defendants and alleges that Thayer forced three inmates to engage in sexual acts by implying he could make their lives in custody “hell” if they didn’t comply with his demands.

The lawsuit states policies at the jail allowed male guards to be alone with female inmates and in areas where there was not video surveillance, and it states that these policies were in place despite there being three guards who were arrested and charged in 2005 for engaging in sexual acts with inmates. The complaint alleges that the county and sheriff did not take sufficient action to address those issues.

Each of the three alleged victims were incarcerated on charges that included drug charges, and the lawsuit states all three were anticipating a referral to a drug court for resolution of the charges and, “In that connection, it was important for [them]to maintain a favorable record while in custody.”

In each instance, Thayer allegedly approached the women and told them he could make their lives in custody “hell” and that if they didn’t comply with his innuendos and advances they, “would be subjected to correctional retaliation,” according to the complaint. The man also allegedly implied that failure to agree to his demands could make the victims’ period of incarceration longer while agreeing could shorten their stay at the jail.

The first victim alleges Thayer took her to a cell that was not video monitored and forced her to perform oral sex on him, “among other indignities.” The woman succumbed out of fear for her safety and freedom interests, according to the complaint. The alleged incident occurred in July of 2013.

The second and third victims were cell mates, and allegedly Thayer told them they were committing disciplinary offenses and that if the two engaged in sexual activity together while he watched they would not be disciplined. He also implied he could give them favorable treatment if they engaged in sexual activity with him. He also implied the women would face “correctional retaliation” if they didn’t comply.

The first incident occurred sometime after the second victim’s arrest in January of 2013. She was released, and in July she was re-arrested and at the time was suffering from heroin withdrawals and mental distress. The lawsuit states Thayer approached her for sexual activity while she was in an “extremely vulnerable physical and mental state” and coerced her into performing oral sex. The next day, she appeared before a judge, who released her. The lawsuit alleges Thayer refused to comply and continued to hold the victim without authority and continued to sexually abuse her.

The second victim was later released, and she was re-arrested in November of 2013. The woman asked to be placed away from female housing where Thayer and others would have access to her, the lawsuit states, and for several days she was kept in a medical bed. However, the woman was then transferred to women’s housing by Thayer, which allegedly allowed him to sexually assault her once more.

The third victim had been in and out of custody at the jail for several years and it is alleged that during this time she was subjected to sexual harassment and assault by jail guards.

The third victim and the second victim were cell mates in March 2013, and they were placed on lock down together. Thayer allegedly asked both women to write him sexually explicit letters, but they did not comply. The lawsuit alleges that, in retaliation, Thayer threatened them with discipline for alleged infractions but said if they let him watch them have sexual activity together they would not be disciplined.

The lawsuit states Thayer continued abusing the third victim and that it was “heinous sexual activity” that occurred over a four-month period. The activity allegedly began slowly and progressed to where, “the heinous sexual activity was occurring on a daily basis on the days that THAYER worked at the jail.”

The lawsuit claims Thayer’s actions were malicious and sadistic and that Washington County had received enough information to support suspicion against the man and that it was negligent to continue to place female inmates in unsupervised locations or locations without monitoring while alone with male guards, including Thayer.

The lawsuit claims the women’s rights against cruel and unusual punishment as well as equal protection under the law and due process were violated and that they suffered assault and battery and were the victims of negligence, among other claims.

The lawsuit seeks general damages in an amount to be determined at trial as well as special damages, also to be determined at trial. The complaint seeks punitive damages against Thayer “in excess of $500,000.00.”

FOX 13 News has reached out to the sheriff and the Washington County Attorney’s Office for comment on the lawsuit, and we will update this story should they respond.