BATON ROUGE, La. — A teenage inmate who was incarcerated with adults was raped by a prisoner who infected the teenager with HIV, according to a federal lawsuit that accuses the Louisiana jail of negligence.
The lawsuit, filed Monday, also accuses East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux and two deputies of violating the teen’s constitutional rights and disregarding a federal law that should have kept the teen segregated from the general population inmates. It seeks unspecified monetary damages from the sheriff, the jail’s warden and another deputy.
The teen was 17 years old, met the criteria for a “high risk sexual victim” under the Prison Rape Elimination Act and should have remained segregated, the suit said. Instead, it said, the teen was transferred from the juvenile wing and attacked last February by a man awaiting trial on rape and robbery charges.
“This sexual predator, armed with a deadly disease, was at high risk not only of raping other inmates, but infecting them with HIV. He should have been put in isolation to protect the other inmates,” the suit said.
But a sheriff’s office spokeswoman, Casey Rayborn Hicks, disputes that the teen should have been classified as a high-risk sexual victim and said he was placed in general population only after he turned 18. Hicks said investigators believe the rape occurred in May 2017, roughly three months after his 18th birthday.
“Unfortunately, those that file lawsuits against the Sheriff’s Office can make claims that have no merit and must be disputed in court,” Hicks said in an email Tuesday. “In addition, when such inmates make claims in reference to their medical status, due to legal restrictions, the Sheriff’s Office cannot publicly refute these claims even when they have no merit.”
The suit says the teen, who was awaiting trial in a burglary case, was 5-foot-10 (1.7 meters), weighed 125 pounds (56 kilograms) and is “mildly mentally handicapped” from fetal alcohol syndrome. His age, size and “mental makeup” left him at high risk of being sexually assaulted in jail, according to the suit.
Hicks, however, said the jail has no record of the teen reporting or exhibiting “problems in terms of mental capacity.” Medical records show the inmate weighed 150 pounds (68 kilograms) upon his arrival at the jail, 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) heavier than the threshold for classifying an inmate as high risk under the Prison Rape Elimination Act, she added.
Warden Dennis Grimes served the teen up to his assailant “like a sacrificial lamb” by authorizing his transfer from the juvenile wing to a locked two-man cell in the general population, the suit said.
“The results were predictable and catastrophic,” the suit said.
In 2016, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a law that raised the state’s adult prosecution age from 17 to 18. But the change hasn’t taken effect yet because the law will be phased in over several years.
The teen’s attorney, Joseph Long, said the Baton Rouge jail typically keeps 17-year-old prisoners housed in the juvenile wing. He said he doesn’t know why his client was transferred to general population before his 18th birthday.
“Who authorized it and why?” he said. “We’re going to find out.”
The suit said the inmate threatened to kill the teen if he reported the rape. Deputies separated them and took the teen to the infirmary only after he smuggled a note out of his cell to report the rape, it said.
The teen tested positive for HIV in December, according to the suit. Jail officials allowed the teen’s assailant to “roam freely in general population” even though they knew or should have known that the man was HIV positive, it said.
Hicks said the jail randomly tests inmates for HIV, but only if they consent.
“An inmate does not have to take an HIV test if they do not want to,” she said.
Hicks said 224 inmates received HIV treatment last year.
“We cannot logistically segregate them nor can they be housed out of parish,” she added.