Jury awards $6.7M to inmate raped by guard while pregnant

MILWAUKEE - A federal jury Wednesday awarded $6.7 million to a woman who was raped repeatedly by a guard when she was being held in the Milwaukee County Jail four years ago.

The guard, Xavier Thicklen, was acting under his scope of employment when the sexual assaults occurred and therefore Milwaukee County is liable for the damages amount, the jury determined.

The jury also found there was "no legitimate government purpose" to shackle the woman during childbirth labor, but jurors did not find she was injured and therefore awarded her no monetary damages, according to Theresa Kleinhaus, a Chicago attorney who litigated the case with other attorneys from the firm.

Kleinhaus said her client was pleased with the verdicts. The plaintiff is not being named because she was a victim of a sexual assault.

"She was raped repeatedly at the age of 19. She sought justice and she is glad the system delivered that justice," Kleinhaus said. "She hopes to prevent other women from being sexually assaulted in the Milwaukee County Jail."

Officials from Milwaukee County did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In the trial, the woman testified that Thicklen assaulted her in various places in the jail and that she still has nightmares.

Thicklen was charged with sexual assault and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge. He was fired.

The woman was already pregnant when she was booked into the jail in early 2013. She was shackled as she went through labor later that year. She was admitted to Aurora Sinai Medical Center at 3 a.m. and delivered a baby girl, who was healthy, 20 hours later.

In a deposition, Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. defended the practice of shackling, saying it is required to protect hospital staff. The lawsuit claimed such a policy is unconstitutional and can harm the mother and child. During the trial, a midwife testified the shackling could slow labor and endanger the child.

Kleinhaus said her client appreciated that the jury found shackling did not serve a legitimate purpose but contended she suffered psychological harm.

The trial comes as the Sheriff’s Office deals with multiple legal issues and Clarke plans to leave for a job in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Clarke did not testify in the three-day trial.

RELATED: Former Milwaukee County jail inmate sues over newborn's death

In March, a second female inmate filed a similar lawsuit related to her shackling as she gave birth. That case is pending.

In a separate matter, an inquest jury in early May recommended criminal charges against seven jail staffers in the dehydration death of inmate Terrill Thomas. District Attorney John Chisholm hasn’t announced whether he will file charges. 

Milwaukee Journal


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