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Barrera v. County of Bucks

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 22, 2015

ROSIE I. BARRERA, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF BUCKS et al. Defendants.

MEMORANDUM RE: DEFENDANTS’ MOTIONS TO DISMISS

Baylson, J.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Rosie Barrera (“Barrera”) seeks redress for injuries suffered during her imprisonment at Bucks County Correctional Facility (“BCCF”). While serving as an inmate, she was allegedly sexually assaulted by Lieutenant Brendan Triplett (“Triplett”) on numerous occasions. She asserts that Bucks County is also liable for her injuries, pointing to deficiencies in policy, procedure, supervision, and training that led to sexual misconduct.

Barrera grounds her claim against Defendant County of Bucks (“Bucks County”) under Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978) and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of her Constitutional rights during her imprisonment. Bucks County moved to dismiss the claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failing to meet the pleading standard as outlined by Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). For the reasons elaborated below, the Motion to Dismiss is DENIED.

II. Factual Allegations

Plaintiff Rosie Barrera was an inmate at BCCF from February 2013 to June 2013.[1] Am. Compl. ¶ 5. (ECF 9). She was transferred to the Women’s Community Corrections Center (“WCCC”) in June 2013 and served there until October 2013. Id.

While at BCCF, Barrera claims that she was the recipient of sexual advances by Triplett, initially an officer at the facility. Id. ¶ 7. Barrera contends that Triplett made this inappropriate contact in broad view of other inmates and officers. Id. ¶ 8. Though his sexual relationships with inmates were common knowledge, the other officers purportedly conformed to a “code of silence, ” so they did not report these incidents. Id. ¶ 19. The administration took no action to protect the inmates or punish Triplett. Id.

In fact, BCCF promoted Triplett to Lieutenant and made him a supervisor at WCCC. Id. ¶ 10. As a supervisor, Triplett had increased access to inmates at WCCC and used this to escalate contact with Barrera upon her transfer to this work release facility in June 2013. Id. ¶ 11.[2]Barrera asserts that Triplett made suggestive comments, kissed her, fondled her, and instigated intimate contact. Id. Triplett followed her around the facility, including rest rooms and closets, making her feel unsafe in all areas of the center. Id. ¶¶ 11-13.[3] As a supervisor, Triplett knew which areas of WCCC had no surveillance and suggested the toilet as a place for sexual contact. Id. He also followed her into the office area during a black-out at the facility, making her workspace unsafe. Id. ¶ 13. Barrera claims that Triplett threatened her to assure her compliance and silence. Id. ¶ 11.[4]

A significant incident occurred during Columbus Day weekend of 2013. Id. ¶ 14. Barrera was meeting with Officer Tabitha Carr, a female officer, in the administrative office area where there were no surveillance cameras. Id. Triplett came into the office area around 11 p.m. and purposely stood by the plaintiff near a knee wall. Id. He deliberately dropped the mail he was carrying in order to fondle Barrera’s leg as he retrieved the mail. Id. ¶¶ 14-15. He dropped the mail again as a ruse to touch Barrera’s inner thigh. Id. ¶ 15. He then pushed his hand down Barrera’s pants and touched her genital area. Id. ¶ 16. He then took out his own genitals and had Barrera touch him. Id. This occurred with Officer Carr in the room, who did not stop it or report it. Id. ¶ 17. It is unclear what Officer Carr was able to see through the knee wall partition. Triplett threatened Barrera to keep their relationship quiet, ordering her to “take it to the grave.” Id. ¶ 18. According to Barrera, he also threatened Officer Carr. Id. Barrera told no prison officials of this sexual contact out of fear. Id. Additionally, Barrera feared institutional backlash, as other inmates who reported sexual contact with guards were placed in solitary confinement. Id.

Bucks County correctional officers were given training on a code of ethics, but Barrera alleges the code was constitutionally deficient and also inadequately followed. Id. ¶¶ 20-21.[5]Expert reports alerted Bucks County that stopping sexual assaults at its prison facilities would require a larger overhaul. Id. ¶ 20. Additionally, corrections officers failed to implement the policy at hand, failing to report or investigate sexual assaults. Id. ¶ 21. Inmates, too, failed to report misconduct since solitary confinement would be the result. Id.

Sexual contact between guards and inmates has been an issue at BCCF and WCCC throughout the history of the facilities. Id. ¶ 22. In the last 25 years, at least 20 officers in the prison have been fired, arrested, or jailed for sexual assault of female inmates. Id. Bucks County allegedly was and is aware of the possibility of such conduct, though they viewed the incidents as isolated events, and took incremental measures to address it throughout the history of BCCF and WCCC. Id. ¶ 20.[6]

Upon its inception, BCCF quickly discovered that allowing regular officers into the women’s block provided an avenue for sexual assault of inmates. Id. ¶ 22.[7] After five years of reports of sexual assault, the prison removed access for regular corrections officers and only allowed male supervisors and counselors into the BCCF women’s block and WCCC. Id. However, in 2003, male counselors and supervisors were arrested for assaulting the female inmates, so the county instituted a policy whereby lieutenants and sergeants were not allowed to enter the women’s housing block in the main facility (BCCF) without a female escort. Id. ¶ 23. The same policy was not implemented at WCCC. Id. ¶ 24. Barrera alleges that this policy was a supervisory blind spot, allowing Lieutenant Triplett, the highest ranking officer on duty at night, unfettered access to her. Id. ¶¶ 24-25.

A new code of ethics training was also instated after the aforementioned incident in 2003. Id. ¶ 21.[8] The plaintiffs’ expert, a retired assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, outlined the type of ethics training and supervision needed to stop assaults in the Bucks County prison system. Id. Bucks County did not adopt these suggestions, choosing to implement other adjustments. Id. Just four months after the new ethics training, a Lieutenant David Rosser was arrested and convicted of sexually assaulting female inmates. Id.

Additionally, such codes and policies were repeatedly not followed. Barrera asserts that officers did not follow procedures outlining the reporting of sexual assault due to a culture of silence and fear. Id. ¶ 26. The alleged “code of silence” encouraged other officers to keep silent about Triplett’s widely known conduct with female inmates. Id. ¶ 27. Barrera points to prior incidents where officers failed to report sexual misconduct, including one incident where a nursing supervisor had a female inmate fired because male officers would not leave her alone, but did not report the inappropriate contact. Id. In the case at hand, Barrera alleges that Officer Carr, who witnessed Triplett’s ...


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