A former inmate at California Institution for Women filed a lawsuit last month against a correctional officer, who she says raped and sexually assaulted her on a daily basis over a six-month time period.
DeEtta Williams (sometimes called “Dee”) claims Officer Michael Ewell also had previously sexually assaulted a female correctional officer while he was working at a men's prison. Even after that, according to Williams' complaint, Ewell was transferred to CIW, an all-female prison, where he impregnated an inmate — all before turning his attention to Williams.
“Because of his past and current sexual assaults,” Williams alleges in her suit, “an investigation ensued against Officer Ewell. CIW authorities requested Dee participate in the investigation. Dee complied. In March of 2015, Dee was asked to testify in front of the State Personnel Board.”
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Bill Sessa confirms that Ewell's employment was terminated on May 26, 2015. He declined to comment on the lawsuit, and says investigation reports are confidential.
The lawsuit also names as defendants the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the head of that organization, Scott Kernan.
“Our client was the victim of negligence and complete lack of oversight,” says Williams' attorney, Chris Morris. “This was not an isolated incident. This was a regular occurrence at this facility.”
According to the complaint: “CIW has a custom and practice of permitting its officers to sexually assault its female prisoners. … As a testament to this allegation, there were at least three other officers at CIW sexually assaulting female prisoners during the time of Dee's own sexual assaults.”
Morris declined to make Williams available for an interview. Ewell could not located for comment.
CIW is one of two female-only prisons in California. Two weeks ago, the Department of Corrections announced that the wardens of both facilities were retiring, a move seen by some as a sign that the department is taking steps to improve conditions at the two prisons.
Williams, now 45, was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 1997, for what she says was a marijuana deal gone wrong that led to one death. She was transferred in CIW in 2004. After getting into a fight in 2010, she was given a three-year term in solitary confinement. Toward the end of her term, she met Ewell.
According to the lawsuit, Ewell began making inappropriate comments toward Williams, and even took pictures of her in the shower while she wasn't looking.
Ewell gave Williams special treatment – he got her out of solitary, got her into a better unit and got her a good job. He then began to take Williams out of her cell at 5:30 a.m., while the other inmates were asleep, and while Ewell was the only guard on the unit. Williams would tell Ewell about her wife and four children; Ewell would respond, “I know you want a real man.”
The officer's sexual advances became more and more aggressive, according to the complaint, and he began sexually assaulting her. On one occasion, according to the suit, “He grabbed her by the throat and began to choke her. Officer Ewell pushed Dee's panties to the side and began giving Dee oral sex … He pulled out his penis and started masturbating. Once he finished, he walked out of the officers' quarters bathroom. Dee got in the shower and cried.”
Subsequent incidents were even more violent and disturbing.
“As a result of Officer Ewell's actions, Dee had a mental breakdown,” reads the complaint. “She was severely depressed and suffered from loss of sleep and appetite. Dee began losing her hair and lost over 20 pounds.” She was transferred to the prison's psychiatric unit, where she stayed until she was released in November 2014.
The suit accuses the California Department of Corrections of failing to set up safeguards against Ewell's behavior — such as installing video cameras inside the facility — and argues that the prison's understaffing created situations in which Ewell was the only officer in a unit, which houses around 175 inmates, at night.
The suit goes on to claim: “Officer Ewell has had previous sexual assaults with other female inmates at CIW. This was known by at least two [California Department of Corrections] officers. [The California Department of Corrections] took no action against Officer Ewell until it was too late, until he had raped at least two other women.”