HUNTINGTON — Three Huntington attorneys are taking the state to court, filing claims of sexual misconduct at various West Virginia prisons and jails.
Twenty-one women have filed lawsuits claiming they were victims of sexual misconduct while incarcerated in Anthony Correctional Center in Greenbrier County, Lakin Correctional Center in Mason County and the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver. The women were incarcerated for acts ranging from uttering to murder.
Kerry A. Nessel, Mike Woelfel and Matthew Woelfel are the three attorneys dealing with the cases.
The state's Division of Corrections, Regional Jail Authority and Department of Education are among the listed defendants, along with 10 individuals, including an associate warden, a lieutenant, a principal of prison education and other correctional officers.
One of the cases, which was filed Nov. 4 in Kanawha Circuit Court, is that of Patricia Kipp, who claims David Masters, an employee of the West Virginia Division of Corrections, sexually harassed and abused her while she was incarcerated at Anthony Correctional Center from 2005 until 2009.
Kipp claims Masters' conduct "was atrocious, intolerable and so extreme and outrageous as to exceed the bounds of decency and so outrageous as to offend community notions of acceptable behavior."
The suit said Kipp suffered anxiety; humiliation; annoyance and inconvenience; invasion of privacy; emotional distress; pain and suffering; mental anguish; loss of her ability or enjoy life; future medical and pharmaceutical expenses and other damages. Kipp's case has been assigned to Kanawha Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey.
Masters also pleaded guilty last year in Greenbrier Circuit Court to sexual intercourse or intrusion with another inmate and received one year of probation in lieu of a one- to five-year suspended prison sentence. The alleged victim is a convicted murderer placed at Anthony.
Nessel said the frequency of the abuse alleged in the 21 lawsuits varied from one-time acts to consistent, constant abuse.
Mike Woelfel said many of the women acknowledge prior wrongdoings placed them in jail, but argue their punishment should not include sexual abuse and assault.
The plaintiffs' attorneys said that although their clients seek monetary awards from these cases, this is not what the cases are about; the women are standing up in order to protect other inmates from future abuse and make the system safer for future women.
Nessel said after seeing the evidence they had no choice but to represent the women.
"I wouldn't take these cases or any individual ones unless I believed in our clients and I do," Nessel said.