A group of five women who were inmates in a county jail in Suffolk County, New York have filed a putative federal class action lawsuit over alleged sexual abuse by a correctional officer. Watts, et al v. County of Suffolk, et al, No. 2:13-cv-01691, complaint (E.D.N.Y., Mar. 28, 2013). They allege that one correctional officer committed multiple acts of sexual harassment and assault against them and other female inmates, and that supervisors either ignored their complaints or threatened retaliation. The lawsuit seeks certification as a class action, compensatory and punitive damages, and other relief.
The plaintiffs were pre-trial detainees at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility, located in Riverhead, New York, during periods of time ranging from April 2009 until April 2011. Two of the five named plaintiffs are still in state custody, and the other three all live on Long Island. According to the complaint, the county assigned male correctional officers, including defendant Sergeant Joseph Foti, to the women’s correctional facility. The plaintiffs allege that Sergeant Foti routinely subjected them, as well as other female inmates, to harassment and abuse, including “offensive sex-based language,…offensive touching and requests for sexual acts.” Complaint at 4. They further claim that supervisors at the facility knew about these incidents from multiple reports by inmates, but failed to investigate the complaints or discipline Foti in any way. The complaint lists individual allegations of harassment or assault by Foti from each of the five plaintiffs, including coerced sexual contact, repeated sexual comments and solicitations, and retaliation in the form of lockdowns and other punishments.