750 victims file lawsuits against NY state claiming they were sexually assaulted while in prison

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Thursday, November 17, 2022
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Hundreds of previously incarcerated inmates are filing lawsuits against the State of New York for failing to protect them while they were in prison. Sonia Rincon has the story.

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Hundreds of previously incarcerated inmates are filing lawsuits against the State of New York for failing to protect them while they were in prison.

About 750 victims have come forward as survivors of sexual assault while they were in custody at New York prisons, according to the suit.

The victims were held at Bayview Correctional Facility, Rikers Island, Bedford Hills, and other prisons across the state.

Three survivors, including Mia Wheeler, were the first of the hundreds of women to come forward.

"The officer first befriended me. And after the sexual assaults occurred, he let me know in no uncertain terms that we share the same borough and that if I would tell, that I would reap the repercussions," sexual abuse survivor Mia Wheeler said.

This lawsuit was brought under the Adult Survivors Act, which created a window for survivors to sue for civil damages regardless of the statute of limitations.

Some of the sexual assaults go back as far as the 1980s.

Ben Crump and Adam Slater are representing some of the victims and held a press conference to discuss the importance of the lawsuits.

"All of these women have suffered in silence for not just years but decades," attorney Ben Crump said.

Their attorneys say the women were sentenced to a life of trauma. They pointed to a report detailing the abuse of the female inmates at Bayview. It was written in 1985.

"New York State knew for decades about the rampant sexual abuse," attorney Adam Slater said.

The Adult Survivors act takes effect next week on Thanksgiving. It was introduced by State Senator Brad Hoylman. Bayview was in his district.

"Having a jury actually listen to their truth couldn't be more important for these women," Hoylman said.

Sadie Bell wants change. Like having only female officers work with female inmates, and other policies aimed at prevention that are long overdue.

"I was raped and impregnated by a correction officer. And I just want the truth to be told," sex abuse survivor Sadie Bell said.

The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision released the following statement:

"DOCCS has zero tolerance for sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and unauthorized relationships. The Department thoroughly investigates all reports of sexual victimization, including unauthorized relationships, and retaliation against any individuals who report incidents or cooperate with those investigations. Staff have an affirmative duty to report any knowledge, suspicion, or information regarding an incident of sexual abuse or sexual harassment, and any unauthorized relationship. Individuals who violate Department rules are disciplined by the Department and when there is evidence that a crime was committed, DOCCS refers those cases for criminal prosecution to the fullest extent permitted by law."

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