Seven youth incarcerated by the Texas Youth Commission at GEO Group's now-shuttered Coke County Juvenile Justice Center have sued the company alleging sexual abuse facilitated by a guard who was a registered sex offender. According to the story from the Associated Press:
The young men allege they were mentally, physically and sexually abused in 2006 and early 2007 by a guard who was fired in March, after state officials learned he was on the public sex offender registry.
He had worked for seven months at the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center, operated by Florida-based GEO Group Inc. The facility housed Texas Youth Commission inmates until the teens were removed in October because of squalor and mismanagement.
One of the plaintiffs, who filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Friday, alleges that guard David Andrew Lewis let several inmates into his cell. They sexually assaulted him with a broom handle while Mr. Lewis watched, according to Dallas lawyer Bob Crill.
As we reported in October, TYC finally closed Coke County after a report by the agency's Ombudsman and inspectors showed the facility to have unsafe and unsanitary conditions.
This isn't the first time Coke County was implicated in a sexual abuse scandal. As Judy noted back in July, the juvenile detention center was home to one of the worst scandals in private prison history back in the 1990s when GEO, then called Wackenhut, hired a man who’d been arrested for a sex offense against a child, to work as a "lead careworker" at the prison, which then held young girls.
The man sexually assaulted 15 year-old Sarah Lowe, and continued to harass and threaten her after her release. Wackenhut settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed amount of money. Lowe, distraught because the lawsuit allowed the company to avoid responsibility for the assaults, committed suicide the same day the settlement was finalized.
This time around, the alleged wrong-doer says that he disclosed his offense, indecently exposing himself to a 5 year-old when he was 15, to the company and was cleared to work in the prison. According to the AP story,
Bob Crill, a Dallas lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said one of them alleges that Lewis allowed several inmates into his cell and then watched as they sexually assaulted the plaintiff with a broom handle.
Another of the plaintiffs, 18-year-old Deon Olthoff, of Granbury, said Lewis would stand too close to inmates as they showered and later started barging into Olthoff's cell to assault him. Olthoff was serving time for a parole violation after being convicted of burglary.
"He just came in and started choking me, and getting on top of me, and grabbing my hands and pulling them behind my back and stuff like that, and grabbing me in private areas," Olthoff said.
We'll keep you updated on this and the host of other lawsuits and scandals facing the GEO Group in Texas.