Missouri Prison Guards Face Harassment, State Settles Cases
Former female prison guard Tina Gallego alleged she was sexually harassed and poisoned by male officers during her tenure at Kansas City Re-entry Center in a lawsuit filed with the state of Missouri. Gallego also alleged she was targeted by other guards after she testified in court on behalf of a female co-worker, Deborah Hesse, about harassment and discrimination in the prison system. Supervisors did not respond to her complaints, and she and her female co-worker were left with no choice but to file separate lawsuits.
Gallego’s co-worker, Deborah Hesse, ultimately received a settlement of $1.92 million from the state of Missouri. Gallego followed up with a sexual harassment case of her own after she testified and returned to the prison, and an inmate told her “she needed to watch her back, and that she was in danger because ‘they know you snitched’ and ‘the white shirts are after you.” A can of soda she was drinking from had been tampered with around that same time, which caused her to vomit and break out in a severe full body rash. Gallego left work, frightened, and didn’t return for several days.
Both Gallego and Hesse were placed on administrative leave with pay by the department while a system-wide investigation was conducted. Hesse’s complaint indicated inmates were being solicited by “angry DOC employees to assist in creating a hostile work environment.” In addition, court documents say that male employees routinely gave Gallego “silent glares.” They avoided her in the hallways. Now the state of Missouri is scheduled to pay $800,000 to settle Gallego’s allegations.
The state, which is home to twenty-one prisons, has paid more than $52 million on five years to settle similar court cases involving female guards. A 2016 report that the state of Missouri refused to release shows that its guards threatened fellow guards and used extremely sexist and racist terms to describe female bodies and sex acts. The 19-page report was the result of an investigation by Ann Molloy, a Kansas City attorney hired by the Missouri Department of Corrections to examine allegations of discrimination and retaliation at its West Bottoms facility.
Molley’s report doesn’t just include complaints filed by female guards. It also details complaints that guard, Jacob Timbers, filed against three male co-workers. Timbers, who is still in his position, said the men called him many derogatory names. Timbers also alleged they had warned him that, if anyone complained about them, “they would turn on that person” and “make that officer’s life hell.”
Molloy spoke with several supervisors and the prison’s warden, according to her report, and several of them indicated they were aware of the three men’s actions. She wrote that, of the three who had violated DOC policy, one had resigned and the other two were facing “disciplinary assessment.” It is still unclear whether the two who resigned were ever punished because any disciplinary action taken is not a public record. Molloy said her investigation had been hampered because prison officials refused to cooperate and provide requested documentation.