227 F.3d 433 (D.C. Cir. 2000), 98-7207, Sunday Daskalea v. Dist. of Columbia & Moore

Docket Nº:98-7207
Citation:227 F.3d 433
Party Name:Sunday Daskalea, Appellee v. District of Columbia and Margaret A. Moore, Director, D.C. Department of Corrections, Appellants
Case Date:August 08, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

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227 F.3d 433 (D.C. Cir. 2000)

Sunday Daskalea, Appellee


District of Columbia and Margaret A. Moore, Director, D.C. Department of Corrections, Appellants

No. 98-7207

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

August 8, 2000

Argued October 15, 1999

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia(No. 96cv02496)

Lutz Alexander Prager, Assistant Deputy Corporation Counsel, Office of Corporation Counsel, argued the cause for appellants. With him on the briefs were Jo Anne Robinson, Interim Corporation Counsel at the time appellants' main brief was filed, Robert R. Rigsby, Interim Corporation Counsel at the time appellants' reply brief was filed, and Charles L. Reischel, Deputy Corporation Counsel. Donna M. Murasky, Assistant Corporation Counsel, entered an appearance.

Gregory L. Lattimer argued the cause and filed the brief for appellee.

Before: Sentelle, Henderson, and Garland, Circuit Judges.

Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge Garland.

Garland, Circuit Judge:

Uncontradicted evidence at the trial of this case established the routine sexual abuse of women inmates by prison guards at the District of Columbia Jail. The plaintiff, Sunday Daskalea, suffered from a continuing course of such abuse, culminating

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in an evening during which "correctional" officers forced her to dance naked on a table before more than a hundred chanting, jeering guards and inmates. The District asks us to relieve it of all responsibility for this conduct, contending that the facts fail to establish the "deliberate indifference" necessary to sustain a municipality's liability for the acts of its employees. But "deliberate indifference" is precisely how any reasonable person would describe the District's attitude toward its women prisoners, and we therefore uphold in full the jury's award of $350,000 in compensatory damages. We are unable, however, to uphold the jury's punitive damages award because District of Columbia law bars the imposition of such awards against the District. And because Daskalea sued co-defendant Margaret Moore solely in her official capacity as Director of the Department of Corrections, plaintiff must look to the District alone for payment of compensation.


This is not the first time the federal courts have reviewed charges of sexual abuse by D.C. correctional officers against female inmates. In 1993, a class action was filed on behalf of all women prisoners under the care of the District of Columbia correctional system. See Women Prisoners v. District of Columbia, 877 F.Supp. 634 (D.D.C. 1994). In that case, the district court found a pattern of rape and sexual assault-coupled with other forms of sexual harassment, inadequate or nonexistent staff training, and retaliation against women who filed complaints--that rose to a level of objective cruelty sufficient to violate the Eighth Amendment. See Women Prisoners, 877 F.Supp. at 639-43, 664-67; see also Women Prisoners v. District of Columbia, 93 F.3d 910, 929, 931 (D.C. Cir. 1996). The court further found that the inmates had filed complaints and written letters to prison administrators to no avail, and that the harassment was obvious and widely known. It concluded that the District of Columbia had acted "with 'deliberate indifference' to the condition of sexual harassment which women prisoners at the [District's facilities] must endure," and that the District was therefore liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the violation of the inmates' constitutional rights. See Women Prisoners, 877 F.Supp. at 665-67.1

On the basis of the foregoing, the Women Prisoners court issued a detailed order on December 13, 1994, requiring the Department of Corrections to "take all action necessary to remedy and prevent" sexual harassment of female inmates by its employees. The court specifically directed the Department to issue, distribute, and post a sexual harassment policy within sixty days, and to conduct mandatory training on sexual harassment for both employees and female inmates. See Women Prisoners, 877 F.Supp. at 679-81.

On May 15, 1995, the Department of Corrections issued a policy in response to the Women Prisoners order. The policy forbade sexual misconduct and harassment, as well as retaliation for the filing of complaints regarding such behavior, and directed the institution of mandatory training. Although some of the guards who testified at Daskalea's trial remembered receiving the policy, others did not. No inmate testified to receiving the policy, and officers admitted that the policy was never posted. There was no evidence that the training requirements were implemented nor that any significant corrective intervention occurred.

Against this background, we now turn to a consideration of the specific facts of Daskalea's case.

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Daskalea was arrested on drug charges and sent to the D.C. Jail on October 26, 1994--two months before the district court issued its decision and order in the Women Prisoners litigation. She was initially housed in South 1, the unit used primarily for women awaiting trial and for those in either solitary confinement or protective custody. From the beginning of her confinement, Daskalea testified that she was called "whore," "white bitch," "cracker," and other epithets by guards and inmates alike.2

In January 1995, Daskalea was moved to Southeast 1.This unit housed approximately eighty women who were serving short-term sentences. Upon arrival, she was met with rumors that she was an undercover FBI agent. She was threatened by other inmates, including one who--in the presence of several guards who did not intervene--told her:"Bitch, you better sleep with one eye open." Daskalea's fears of attack were realized when she was subsequently assaulted by two inmates.

The civilian employee in charge of the Jail's library, Edward Gardner, was well known for providing inmates with cigarettes in exchange for sex. It was also widely known that the rooms adjacent to the library were routinely used for sex between library staff and inmates. When Daskalea first attempted to use the library's research materials, Gardner leered at her and rubbed his genitals. She rebuffed his advances, and thereafter had difficulty obtaining any assistance from the library staff. Some time later, a guard took Daskalea out of her cell and brought her to the library. The guard led her to a room where a male inmate, notorious for engaging in sexual misconduct in the library, was waiting. The inmate then attacked her, attempting a sexual assault.

As time went on, the campaign of fear, harassment, and violence against Daskalea--on the part of both staff and inmates--intensified. Guards told her they would break her. One day, when inmates were supposed to be on lock down, a prisoner known as Bootsie came to Daskalea's cell and spat and cursed at her. Later that day a guard, Sgt. Theresa Noble, forcibly restrained Daskalea's hands while Bootsie attacked her. Plaintiff stopped sleeping at night for fear she would be raped or assaulted.

The testimony at trial disclosed a culture of routine acceptance of sexual encounters between staff and inmates on Southeast 1. One cell, known as Cell 73, was kept empty and used for sex between prisoners and guards. It was also used by staff to sleep off drunkenness--particularly by Officer Yvonne Walker, the officer in charge of the evening shift. There was also testimony that one of the inmates, Jacky Newby, was threatened by a guard jealous of New by's sexual relationship with evening-shift guard Quida Graham.

Daskalea repeatedly complained to the authorities about sexual harassment. She filed more than fifteen official Internal Grievance Procedure Forms and wrote letters directly to, among others, the Deputy Warden, Warden, and Director Moore. She also wrote to the judge in her criminal case, who held a hearing at which Daskalea's complaints of sexual harassment were aired. Notwithstanding the judge's written recommendation that "defendant be moved from D.C. Jail," J.A. at 484 (commitment order), she was not. Nor did prison authorities intervene in any other way to stop the abuse.

All of the above turned out to be a mere prelude to the events of July 20, 1995.

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During the weeks preceding that date--on at least three occasions and perhaps as often as weekly--Officer Walker, the head guard on the evening shift, organized a series of evenings during which female inmates stripped and danced provocatively to loud music. Both female and male guards were present and, according to the testimony at trial, some guards assaulted inmates who refused to dance.

On the evening of July 20, the Jail's cell doors were kept open because the air conditioning system was malfunctioning. Sometime that evening, while plaintiff was sitting in her cell, loud music began and inmates started moving to the dining area. Daskalea followed, arriving late and standing at the back of the crowd. There, at the center of attention, was Officer Walker, doing a handstand on one of the dining tables and gyrating her hips provocatively. Soon, at Walker's instigation, three inmates climbed onto the table and began dancing, completely naked, while the crowd cheered. One of the dancing inmates performed a lewd act, and Officer Walker placed her head between the inmate's legs to get a closer look. By that point, all of the inmates, numerous female guards, and several male guards and maintenance workers were in attendance.

Then, someone called out Daskalea's name. Fearing what might be coming, plaintiff fled back to her cell, but was unable to close the door. A few minutes later...

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