BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Eight women who were former inmates of either the Erie County Holding Center or the Erie County Correctional Facility have accused unidentified correctional officers and other personnel of sexual abuse at various times over two decades.
A New York City law firm filed all eight lawsuits in State Supreme Court under the Adult Survivors Act, which provides survivors of sexual offenses with a one-year window to file civil claims against their abusers.
Each woman is suing for $20 million in damages.
The complaints state that the alleged sexual abuse of the eight women occurred on separate occasions between 1996 and 2018.
The complaints do not provide the full names of the accused, and it is unclear if any are still employed by the Erie County Sheriff’s Office.
In each complaint, the women accuse the Erie County Sheriff’s Office of negligence. The women allege their abusers either threatened them to stay quiet or groomed them with special benefits other inmates did not receive.
Erie County declined to comment on the active lawsuits.
The first woman alleges a correctional officer at the Erie County Correctional Facility in Alden had fondled her on 15 occasions between April 1996 and August 1996.
In addition, the woman alleges the same correctional officer rubbed his clothed penis against her clothed back and forced her to give him oral sex on 25 occasions in the holding center’s law library.
She also accuses a second correctional officer of fondling her and forcing her to perform oral sex in late August 1996.
The second woman accuses a correctional officer of fondling and sexually abusing her without a condom on one occasion between August 2001 and December 2001 in the television recreation room of the holding center.
In addition, she alleges the same correctional officer fondled her on five occasions over the same time frame in her cell. She alleged the correctional officer groomed her by allowing her to stay outside longer than permitted, and providing her with cigarettes, food, and soda from outside the prison.
The third woman alleges that in October 2004 a correctional officer at the Alden jail sexually abused her at night in her cell while other inmates were sleeping. She accused him of threatening to send her to solitary confinement or revoke her visitation and commissary privileges if she did not comply with his sexual advances.
The fourth woman alleges a correctional officer at the Alden jail fondled and sexually abused her in a suicide watch unit on 35 occasions, from August 1998 to October 1998. She alleges the correctional officer groomed her by providing her with envelopes and paper to write to her children and threatened to take away her privileges if she refused to comply with his sexual demands.
The fifth woman alleges a correctional officer fondled her on July 29, 2013, in the Alpha Block of the holding center.
The sixth woman alleges a correctional officer at the Alden jail fondled her in her cell overnight between December 2016 and March 10, 2017. She alleges the correctional officer threatened to delay her release date or transfer her to a different facility, and “make life worse” for her if she did not comply with his advances.
The seventh woman alleges a member of the kitchen staff sexually abused her 50 times between January 2001 and October 2001. She said the abuse happened on average five to six times per month in the kitchen freezer at the Alden jail. She alleges he threatened to strangle her if she refused to comply with his sexual advances.
In addition, she accuses a second kitchen staff member of sexually abusing her 20 times in the same location over the same timeframes.
The eighth woman alleges a correctional officer at the Alden facility fondled her on eight or nine occasions between Dec. 18, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2017 while in the doorway leading to the recreational yard and her dorm.
She alleges the same correctional officer sexually abused her in April 2018 while in the medical unit, about a month before she was expected to be released.
The woman alleges the correctional officer openly flirted with her and threatened to “ruin [her] time” in the facility if she reported him.
Each case alleges the Erie County Sheriff’s Office should have known that the holding center “had a high rate of staff on inmate sexual abuse.”
Sheriff’s office sued over issue two years ago
In March 2021, the New York Attorney General’s Office and the state Commission of Correction sued the sheriff’s office for failing to properly report and investigate allegations of sexual misconduct.
The attorney general accused the sheriff’s office of failing to timely report allegations of sexual misconduct, and in some cases, not reporting them until the complaint was reported in the media.
“The Erie County Sheriff’s Office must finally confront the harsh realities of its correctional facilities and take real measures to end the widespread sexual misconduct perpetrated by its correction officers,” said Attorney General Letitia James in June 2021.
That case resulted in a host of measures the sheriff’s office agreed to put into effect, including the appointment of an independent monitor to audit all incident reporting, proof of zero-tolerance training for correctional officers, specialized training for certain members on how to effectively investigate sexual abuse allegations, among other changes.