Spokane County will pay $250,000 to a woman who was sexually assaulted by a Geiger Corrections Center guard.
Commissioners authorized the payment this week to settle a U.S. District Court lawsuit.
The county admits no fault in the settlement, but the guard – Bernard R. Baumgardner III – pleaded guilty in June 2006 to first-degree custodial sexual misconduct.
Baumgardner claimed the inmate consented to have sex with him in January 2006, but admitted she “reasonably believed” he could increase her sentence if she refused.
He was 60 at the time; she was 29.
Regardless of consent, any sex between a guard and an inmate is illegal.
The victim was a federal prisoner, housed at Geiger under a contract with Spokane County.
She said Baumgardner directed her to clean an exercise room, where he forcibly raped her. Baumgardner had been sexually harassing her for weeks, the woman said.
A sheriff’s investigation was launched, and Baumgardner resigned.
Later, the independent Geiger Corrections Center was placed under Sheriff’s Office control.
Sheriff’s Capt. John McGrath, who supervises the county jail as well as Geiger, said steps have been taken to prevent further incidents and to bring the facilities into compliance with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003.
A sergeant was designated to receive complaints from Geiger inmates, and a toll-free line – (866) 766-1332 – was established for inmates or others to report sexual abuse in the corrections center.
Reports may be anonymous, but officials want as much information about allegations as they can get, McGrath said.
He said Geiger also has better screening to identify potential abusers and victims among employees and inmates.
McGrath said extra effort is made to protect vulnerable inmates, who often are younger, smaller and not as “street smart” as other prisoners.
Staff members are being trained in rape-prevention policies this month. Training also is planned for contractors and volunteers.
McGrath said staff members have been warned that any sexual impropriety will cost them their jobs. However, procedures haven’t been changed to reduce opportunities for guards to be alone with prisoners.
“We rely on our staff to move inmates appropriately, and there are opportunities for staff to do the wrong thing,” McGrath said.
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