A former inmate is suing Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) officials in federal court, claiming she was repeatedly raped, assaulted and harassed by a correctional officer at the Birmingham Work Release Center.
Olivia Osborne, 33-year-old, is suing Officer Vincent Cheatham, Shirley Smith, who is the warden of the facility, and Prison Commissioner Kim Thomas for assault and battery, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, liberty deprivation, negligent training and supervision, sexual harassment, cruel and unusual punishment, failure to protect and violation of the Fourth Amendment.
According to the complaint, the lawsuit came about due to a “long-standing pattern and practice of harassment, assault, torture and cover-up that lasted for over a year” that “completely ravaged” Osborne’s life. This suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama on October 30.
ADOC spokesman Brian Corbett said Cheatham resigned in lieu of termination from ADOC in July 2011. Corbett said the prison system does not comment on pending litigation.
“I got sentenced to prison for a crime I committed,” said Osborne, a 2000 graduate of Auburn University. “I didn’t get sentenced to be raped, abused and neglected.”
Cheatham stated that Osborne’s harassment began in January 2011, just two weeks after she was transferred to Birmingham form the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, according to the complaint. According to the lawsuit, the harassment started small, Cheatham forcing her to take van rides with him, making her cook him food, threatening to write her up for disobeying a director’s order if she didn’t comply and watching her in the shower.
But she said the harassment steadily became more severe until Osborne was being raped and sodomized by the correctional officer.
It was reported that in June 2011, while Osborne was working at a Best Western Hotel as part of her work release program, Cheatham blocked her exit from work one night with his blue Trailblazer, grabbed her, pulled her into the back seat, tore off her clothes and raped and sodomized her, according to the complaint.
In October 2011, after she had reported the harassment and assaults, the lawsuit stated that Smith ordered her to be placed on birth control, and a week after the warden issued the order, Cheatham raped Osborne again, this time in the kitchen at Best Western while working the second shift, according to the complaint. She happened to be the only employee working that night.
Two weeks later, the suit alleges that he raped her again in the stairwell of the hotel, as reported in the lawsuit.
On December 11, Assistant Attorney General Alyce Robertson Addison responded on ADOC’s behalf with a motion to dismiss all claims against Thomas and Smith.
Each and every time an incident occurred, Osborne reported the abuse, but nothing was done about it.
The prison allegedly would not turn over medical records, believed to contain evidence.
Osborne said that her reporting what happened only made matters worse for her.
Osborne was convicted of “white-collar crimes” after being involved in an accounting scandal involving HealthSouth Corp., a Birmingham-based company that owned the most inpatient rehabilitative facilities in the country. Richard Scrushy, CEO, was accused of directing company officials to falsely report exaggerated company earnings to meet stockholder expectations. Osborne was convicted of forgery, theft of property and theft of services. She served five years and five months at Tutwiler and Birmingham Work Release. She was released October 24th.
Osborne was not allowed to press charges or speak out. She has developed severe anxiety and psychological damage due to this experience and wonders whether her life will ever be the same.
Many women are afraid to speak up due to fear of retaliation. Apparently, this abuse is common for women in Alabama prisons. Rape is a serious crime, with severe legal ramifications. Why would these guys get away with probation and a slap on their hands? Hopefully, this officer will be held accountable and brought to justice.
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