ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – A jury has awarded millions of dollars in damages to three women inmates who were raped by a guard New Mexico prison for women.
The decision came down Thursday when the federal jury ordered $3 million after hearing more than a week of testimony involving a 2007 case at the Camino Nuevo Women’s Correctional Facility.
The jury said that former guard Anthony Townes and his then-employer, Corrections Corporation of America, were liable for negligent supervision.
Townes is serving a 16-year state prison sentence for criminal sexual penetration and false imprisonment His attorney, Michael Jahner, said he had no comment after the verdict. Aaron Viets, local counsel for CCA, referred questions to lead attorney Daniel Struck of Phoenix.
Jurors heard more than a week of testimony in front of U.S. District Judge William P. Johnson before they were charged with rendering a verdict late Wednesday.
But the intertwined state and federal claims, coupled with questions about who must pay the compensatory and punitive damages are certain to engender more litigation – probably from both sides.
Still, Paul Kennedy, who with Nicole Moss represented the rape victims, said after the verdict that his clients “feel like they’ve been vindicated by the jury.”
“The substantial recovery,” he said, “is sending a signal to the private prison industry that these practices must stop or they face more serious consequences in the future.”
Although the court ruled that CCA was not responsible for Townes’ actions, which were outside the scope of his employment, Kennedy said a state law dealing with private prisons requires the contractor to “assume all liability caused by or arising out of all aspects of the provision or operation of the facility.”
Kennedy and Moss said they believe there were other victims of Townes who did not come forward. The plaintiffs testified about seeing Townes taking female inmates in their nightgowns out of their cells at night.
Others didn’t come forward out of fear of the consequences, Moss said. “That’s why these three women were amazing that they were able to speak up,” she said.
The Albuquerque Journal contributed to this story.