Officer's alleged sexual misconduct results in two more suits against WVDOC

By Lawrence Smith | Jan 29, 2009

CHARLESTON -- Following several filed last year, two more lawsuits have been filed in 2009 against the state Division of Corrections alleging an officer at a Greenbrier County correctional facility sexually abused female inmates.

On Jan. 5, Trisha N. Justice and Sylvia A. Amos filed separate lawsuits against Dave Masters in Kanawha Circuit Court. In their respective complaints and suits, filed with the assistance of Huntington attorneys Kerry Nessel and Matthew J. Woelfel, allege that both Masters, who is named both individually and as a correctional officer, and WVDOC, which is named as a co-defendant, engaged in "a continuing practice and pattern of sexual harassment, sexual abuse and sexual assault upon inmates" at the Anthony Correctional Center.

Located near White Sulphur Springs, ACC is a co-educational alternative facility that houses mostly young adult offenders 18-23. According to WVDOC's Web site, offenders are sentenced there to a term of six months to two years.

Inmates who successfully complete their term as well as all ACC course requirements are released back to the court for a probation evaluation. Should an inmate be deemed unfit for probation, or has regularly violated ACC rules, the inmate then has his or her original sentence imposed.

Because both Justice and Amos were convicted for their respective crimes past age 23, records are unclear if they were sent to ACC as an alternative sentence or for other reasons such as to alleviate overcrowding at the Lakin Correctional Center for Woman in West Columbia where female offenders are typically held.

Justice, 34, was convicted in 2001 on one count of first degree robbery, and one count of first degree murder in Boone Circuit Court. Currently, she is incarcerated at Lakin, and not eligible for parole until 2029.

Amos, 35, was convicted first of one count of forging and uttering in 2002, and one count of obtaining money or property services by false pretenses in Greenbrier Circuit Court. She was paroled following a hearing last month.

Nevertheless, Justice and Amos allege they were victims of "a pattern of deliberate indifference" at the hands of Dave Masters and others. In her suit, Justice names Matthew Lowe, a fellow inmate, while Amos only lists John Doe.

In their suits, Justice and Amos do not provide any specific dates or acts to back-up their allegations except that the pattern of harassment and abuse occurred regularly from 2006 to 2008. Also, they maintain the actions of Masters, Lowe and Doe was done with the "tacit approval of supervisory staff of the West Virginia Division of Corrections employed by Anthony Correctional Center."

However, both Justice and Amos maintain that Master, in conjunction with either Lowe or Doe, "sexually harassed the Plaintiff on a repeated basis [and] threatened and intimidated the Plaintiff on multiple occasions that in the event she was to report any wrongdoing she would suffer dire consequences." Additionally, Masters, Lowe and Doe, served as both lookouts and accessories after-the-fact in the alleged acts.

In their 10-count lawsuits, Justice and Amos make claims for, among other things, emotional distress, negligent supervision and constitutional violations. Specifically, they allege their 4th, 8th and 9th Amendment rights were violated by Masters' actions.

Both are seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages plus costs and fees.

Last year, half a dozen lawsuits were filed against WVDOC alleging sexual misconduct on Masters' behalf including a pair by Beverly Carson and Ryan McKown on July 11, and one by Tammy Todd on behalf of her sister Julie Wyatt on Aug. 29.

Justice's case has been assigned to Judge Tod J. Kaufman while Amos' is before Charles King

Kanawha Circuit Court case numbers 09-C-08 (Justice) and 09-C-09 (Amos)

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