·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Verdicts & Settlements

Judge Dismisses Michigan Inmate’s ‘Virtual Sex Slave’ Lawsuit

— May 25, 2018

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit brought forward by a former inmate who claims to have been used as a ‘virtual sex slave’ by a female counselor.

According to the Detroit Free Press, U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland—who issued a judgment in the case on Thursday—said the state can’t be sued, citing governmental immunity. And Judge Cleland believes the ex-convict’s claims are too vague to stand trial.

Former Parnell Correctional Facility inmate Steven Moerman filed his claim against the Michigan Department of Corrections in 2016, alleging that he’d been ‘repeatedly’ raped by a female social worker who desperately wanted to get pregnant. The abuse, claims Moerman, took place while he was supposed to be receiving mental health counseling.

Moerman says the woman—named as Susan Clingerman in the suit—treated him “as the object of her own sexual gratification.” She began fertility treatment to enhance her likelihood of conception, becoming pregnant in August of 2014.

One year later, the MDOC discharged her from her position and barred her from reentering the prison. She was eventually charged with several common law offenses which led to a few weekends in jail and short-term probation.

Moerman’s attorneys say the Jackson, MI, man was mentally ill—a fact Clingerman could use to her advantage.

“She had control over virtually every aspect of his life,” said Moerman’s attorney, Sterlin Mesadieu, in 2016. “She took full advantage of her power over him.”

But Judge Cleland’s verdict suggests much of what Moerman claimed couldn’t be evidenced or in any way substantiated. His lawsuit, wrote Cleland, “is devoid of anything but unsupported allegations that the state defendants’ practices and policies caused his harm.

Bars on a cell; image by, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0, no changes.
Michigan state law criminalizes sexual relations between prisoners and prison staff, citing the inherently coercive natural of such couplings.
Bars on a cell; image by, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0, no changes.

“But,” continues Cleland, “he leaves the court and the state defendants to guess just which practices and policies, and to fill in the blanks as to how they caused his abuse.”

Cleland noted that Moerman and Clingerman married shortly after the former’s release in 2015. Court records obtained by the Detroit Free Press don’t indicate when the couple married or whether they’ve since separated.

Corrections Officer Timothy Hampton told the Michigan State Police that he’d caught Clingerman and Moerman having intercourse in a prison office. The counselor was quickly dismissed from her post at Parnell and charged with sexual misconduct.

Under Michigan state law, sexual relations between prisoners and prison staff are automatically classed as rape or coercive. Moerman’s suit alleges that he still suffers from mental illness and “continues to suffer injuries from being the victim of an inherently coercive sexual relationship […] while in the custody of the Michigan Department of Corrections.”

The suit named Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder along with prison officials and agencies as co-defendants.

Clingerman, for her part, has maintained that the relationship was completely consensual—saying that the law may view relations between inmates and staff as inherently coercive, but that the two have “shared responsibility” for the outcome.


Ex-inmate says he was sex slave: Why Mich. judge tossed case

Lawsuit: Prisoner was counselor’s ‘virtual sex slave’

Join the conversation!