After 10 years as a correctional officer at the James V. Allred Unit in Iowa Park, Texas, Sgt. Tessa Thompson* knew to be wary of the 3,650 inmates under her watch.
But in a prison full of barbed wire, cameras, and convicted felons, it was her supervisor who allegedly attacked her on a sweltering June day in 2016.
While inmates and other officers walked past, one of Thompson’s supervisors “walked up behind [her], grabbed the fence in front of her and pulled himself into her backside,” according to a federal lawsuit filed earlier this week against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. “He trapped her between his arms and his body, holding her against her will. He bent his knee, moving his groin area toward [her] buttocks, and pressed himself against her, and then held her there, breathing down her neck,” the court papers allege.
The maximum-security facility is the second-largest prison in Texas and has been the subject of several cases of alleged abuse and neglect of inmates, with some claiming it’s among the worst prisons in the nation.
“Power corrupts,” said Thompson’s attorney, Louise Tausch, in an interview with The Daily Beast. “It seems to be that as they move up the food chain, things happen more often” because of the increased power differential.
Thompson’s suit, filed on July 3 in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Texas, requests unspecified damages to be determined at a jury trial. The Houston Chronicle first reported on the case earlier this week.
Earlier this year, the newspaper also published accounts of current and former criminal justice employees in the state, who claim that harassment and gender discrimination in the prison system is a long-standing, pervasive problem. In 2017, the state’s prison system agreed to a $250,000 settlement with a separate client represented by Tausch, who accused a lieutenant of raping her against a prison staircase.
“You think it’s the inmates you have to worry about,” one former reportedly employee told the Chronicle, “but it’s actually the people you work with.”
Thompson had been working at the Allred Unit since October 2006. According to her complaint, she filed an internal report against her harasser five days after the incident occurred.
An initial investigator for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, according to the lawsuit, reviewed a videotape of the incident and found it to be consistent with Thompson’s complaint. Despite this, she later received a memo during the first week of August from an employee relations manager, which found that “a policy violation did not occur.”
Tausch told The Daily Beast on Friday that she had not seen the videos yet.
“We are at the very beginning,” she added.
After she reported the alleged harassment, Thompson was “charged for an incident that occurred on July 9, 2016,” according to the lawsuit. “The investigation of the incident did not include interviews of Ms. [Thompson], the medical staff, nor the staff that was present during the incident. ...This was a created offense to punish [her].”
In the aftermath, Thompson was “subjected to an intimidating, hostile, and offensive working environment” and has “suffered and will continue to suffer from past and future lost wages, past and future lost benefits, future medical expenses, and severe mental anguish and emotional distress, all of which would not otherwise have been incurred,” her lawsuit says.
“She had the gumption to speak out even though she has some serious physical injuries from the stress and the PTSD,” said Tausch. “She has concerns about additional retaliation.”
Thompson “has suffered emotional distress and psychological damage, and her character and standing in her community have suffered from the harassment fostered as a direct and proximate result of Defendant’s deliberate indifference to her rights under the Fourteenth Amendment,” according to the lawsuit.
A Texas prison spokesman declined comment to the Chronicle, citing pending litigation
*The sergeant asked not to be identified by The Daily Beast over fear of retaliation.