URBANA — A federal judge has ruled in favor of the defendants in an eight-count lawsuit that sought damages for the alleged sexual abuse of a female inmate at the Ford County Jail.
U.S. District Judge Harold A. Baker last week dismissed five of the eight counts and granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants in the other three counts.
Joliet attorney Gregory Leiter filed the lawsuit in 2010 in U.S. District Court in Urbana on behalf of Krystal Brown, a 20-year-old former Rantoul resident who was being housed at the jail in Paxton while awaiting sentencing on aggravated bank robbery charges. The lawsuit sought more than $300,000 in damages against Ford County, the sheriff's department, Sheriff Mark Doran and four of his employees.
The filing of the lawsuit led to a federal investigation and the subsequent arrest of then-correctional officer Phillip S. Santefort, 41, of Buckley. Santefort pleaded guilty in 2011 to one count of sexual abuse of a person in official detention, a Class 3 felony, and was later sentenced to eight months in prison.
Neither Leiter nor Urbana attorney Keith Fruehling, who was the lead attorney representing the defendants, returned messages seeking comment. Doran had no comment.
According to Baker's written order, Brown claimed that from June to September 2009, Santefort on several occasions forced her into sexual activity against her will in her cell. Santefort did not deny that they engaged in sexual activity, but he claimed the conduct was consensual.
In September 2009, after Brown was sentenced and transferred to a federal prison, she and Santefort communicated often by phone and email, Baker wrote. The two professed their love for each other and talked of their plans to continue the relationship after her release. The communication ended in January 2010.
"Brown was apparently upset by their break-up," Baker wrote. "Soon thereafter, she reported to federal officials that Santefort had initiated sexual contact with her while she was at the Ford County jail."
In March 2010, Brown gave a sworn statement to federal agents, stating that her participation in the sexual conduct was "willing." She later testified before a grand jury, saying that her statements to federal agents were accurate.
But in November 2012, Brown claimed her participation was "willing" only because she feared Santefort's "Mafia" connections.
Baker, in his written order, rejected Brown's argument that as a prisoner she was unable to consent to sexual conduct with Santefort. Baker also ruled inadmissible her deposition testimony that she was threatened or coerced into sexual conduct, since those statements conflicted with her previous testimony to federal agents and a grand jury.
The court also rejected Brown's claims that correctional officer Mona Lavender, jail administrator Stacie Bruens and the sheriff "acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind to deprive Brown of her constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by sexual contact with Santefort."
Baker also ruled in favor of the defendants in Brown's claim that the sheriff, jail administrator and Ford County jail "refused or neglected to prevent Santefort's sexual conduct" with her, that they were negligent in hiring Santefort, and that they failed to "train, supervise, control and discipline correctional officers and lieutenants from having malicious sexual relations with inmates."
Doran hired Santefort as a courthouse security guard in August 2007, about a year after Santefort pleaded guilty to theft, stemming from allegations he stole $26,000 in cash that had been seized from narcotics busts while he was employed with the Calumet City Police Department in suburban Chicago.
The lawsuit argues that Santefort's hiring by Doran "presented a known or obvious risk."
Baker, however, noted that Doran, before making the hire, talked with a sergeant who had worked with Santefort and his probation officer.
"Doran learned that Santefort took the funds to pay his mortgage, and he was viewed as a good guy who made a mistake but was trying to get his life back on track," Baker wrote.
"Doran was not negligent in hiring Santefort," Baker continued. "Doran took care to learn the nature of his criminal background and ensured that Santefort would not work in an area where he 'was highly likely to' misappropriate money. ... There was no indication that someone with Santefort's criminal background would engage in sexual improprieties."
Baker also rejected the claim that Santefort was not trained properly by Ford County.
Baker also ruled against Brown's claim that the jail failed to train other correctional officers to recognize the warning signs that Santefort and she had an inappropriate relationship.
Baker also disagreed with Brown's claim that the jail is liable for failing to supervise and discipline Santefort.