28 women file suit over 'night of terror' in Indiana jail, alleging incarcerated men bribed jail officer for keys

Two lawsuits say female prisoners suffered physical, emotional and psychological injuries.

By Emma Tucker, CNN

(CNN) -- Twenty-eight incarcerated women in Indiana have alleged in two separate federal lawsuits that they were ?threatened or sexually assaulted, including two who said they were raped, last year by ?men incarcerated at the same facility who, according to one of the lawsuits, bribed a corrections officer with $1,000 to obtain the keys to their jail cells.

The women are suing Clark County Sheriff Jamey Noel, former Clark County jail officer David Lowe and unidentified jail officers in two federal civil rights actions filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. The lawsuits stem from events that ?the plaintiffs say? took place in the Clark County Jail in Jeffersonville on the evening of October 23 ?into the morning of October 24 2021, attorneys for both lawsuits told CNN.

The first lawsuit, filed on June 21 on behalf of 20 ?named women, alleges that ?men incarcerated at the same facility threatened, assaulted or raped them over multiple hours after Lowe gave the men keys to access the women's cells. The second lawsuit was filed on July 25 on behalf of eight additional women ?who are not named, according to Steve Wagner, an attorney who filed the lawsuit. It describes what they called "a night of terror" at the jail and said two ?men obtained the keys in exchange for a payment of $1,000.

One woman in the first lawsuit alleged that she was raped during the incident and a separate woman in the second lawsuit also alleged she was raped. However, there were no charges filed on these allegations, according to William Perry McCall, an attorney who filed the first lawsuit in June on behalf of 20 women. Attorneys for both lawsuits told CNN that the women are not speaking publicly about their claims, citing reasons such as emotional distress and to protect their identities.

Both lawsuits say the women suffered physical, emotional and psychological injuries in violation of their constitutional rights.

The July 25 lawsuit accuses Noel of failing to properly staff the jail, train jail officers and supervise them to make sure they "maintained adequate security at the jail." It adds that "these systemic failures allowed numerous male assailants to have free run of the Jail for several hours, resulting in a night of terror for the plaintiffs and other victims."

Noel declined to comment on the lawsuits, noting that the litigation is pending. However, in a statement to CNN, Noel's attorney, Larry Wilder, said, "The events of October 23rd were the result of the unforeseeable criminal actions of a rogue corrections officer. The individual in question chose to abandon his training, ethics and morals and made the unilateral decision to mortgage his career and future by allowing inmates access to the jail keys."

Wilder said the sheriff is "committed to insuring that nothing of this magnitude or scope ever happens again," but he is "equally committed to debunking those untruths that have been alleged by those who are attempting to reap financial gain from the crimes of David Lowe."

Jail officials launched an investigation "immediately" after becoming aware of the events, Wilder says, which included a review of security footage and recorded interviews with corrections officers, ?men incarcerated at the facility and ??"over 40?" women prisoners.

As a result of the investigation, Wilder said, the sheriff's department is making "immediate changes to the physical structure of the jail as well as reviewing procedure and practices."

Lowe was taken into custody on October 25 on felony charges of official misconduct and aiding, inducing or causing escape, according to court documents. He is currently out of jail on bond and awaiting his criminal trial in November, according to the Clark County Sheriff's Office. Lowe has not yet entered a plea deal.

Attempts by CNN to reach Lowe for a statement in response to the allegations were unsuccessful and his attorney could not be identified.

Lowe said in a statement to The Washington Post that he was "coerced and assaulted into making a false confession" about taking money from the men in exchange for the keys to the women's pod.

Lowe claimed in his statement to the Post that he made a mistake that ultimately allowed the men to steal the keys and that it was an accident that resulted from being overworked. He also told the newspaper that he only became aware of the attack in the days after it occurred because he was working in another area of the jail.

Attacks continued for multiple hours, suit says

The events began to unfold ?"on the night of October 23, and into the early morning hours of October 24" when two male inmates used the keys, provided by Lowe, to enter each of the pods within the facility where the female detainees were housed, according to the July lawsuit.

The men threatened the women, including threats to kill them, if they "hit the button" to call for officers, according to the first lawsuit, filed in June. They then left the pods and returned with several more male inmates who wore towels and blankets covering their heads and faces, according to the lawsuit.

Over the course of multiple hours "at least two of the female inmates were raped," the lawsuit says.

Additionally, according to the suit, the ?men "grabbed and groped" the women, exposing their genitals ?to the women and making sexual and threatening statements. ?"Multiple hours" into the attack, one of the women hit the emergency button and began screaming to call for the correction officers, at which point the ?men left the pod, the lawsuit says.

A corrections officer who opened the door and turned on the lights advised the women that they lost their "dark" privileges, meaning the lights remained on in the ?women's area for the following 72 hours, the lawsuit says. In addition, the women were put on lockdown for the next several days and were taken to holding cells to be questioned. A few days later, the lawsuit alleges, corrections officers removed the women's personal items such as razors, pillows and blankets.

The lawsuit filed on July 25 ?by different attorneys on behalf of eight ?unnamed women incarcerated at the same jail says that Lowe gave the male detainees the keys to the interior areas of the jail, where they could access numerous restricted areas, in exchange for $1,000.

The women suffered "significant emotional and physical injuries, including but not limited to nightmares, bleeding, vaginal tears, and genital herpes," the lawsuit says.

Women left in 'constant state of fear,' attorney says

In a statement to CNN, Wagner says that jail officials retaliated against the women after they were allegedly assaulted. Additionally, he said the missing keys to their pods were still unaccounted for in the days following the incident, leaving the women "in a constant state of fear that the male inmates would return in the nights following."

"In this environment, given the threats of the assailants and the utter lack of sympathy -- or protection -- by jail officials, the women, understandably, initially kept quiet about what happened. They were in fear of their lives," Wagner said. He says that the women decided to report the incident after being encouraged by family and friends.

Wilder said in his statement that interviews conducted by sheriff's detectives with ?women in custody at the jail as part of the investigation, following Lowe's arrest, "yielded information that is in direct opposition to the allegations made in the civil lawsuit."

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