In a federal lawsuit filed in late May, Karen Backues Keil claims she was raped by a corrections officer more than 20 times over a stretch of several years while serving a six-year term on forgery and theft charges at Missouri’s Chillicothe Correctional Center for women. The lawsuit further alleges that when she reported the abuse to a mental health counselor at the facility, he also assaulted her.
Her lawsuit names as defendants the guard, the counselor, and an outside contractor supervising mental health services; it also includes unnamed supervisors of the contractor during earlier work for the Missouri Department of Corrections. A spokesperson for the state agency refused to comment on the pending lawsuit.
The plaintiff told the Kansas City Star that she still suffers from recurrent nightmares from the incidents more than a year after her release from the state prison. The lawsuit also contends that Edward Bearden, the guard she accuses, was still employed at the prison when the case was filed. According to the plaintiff, Bearden started groping her during pat-down searches and progressed to repeated rapes between 2012 and 2015.
After Keil was transferred to another part of the prison, the lawsuit adds, Bearden frequently asked other inmates for information about her and mailed her a card from outside the prison, in which he expressed feelings for her. After her release early 2017, Bearden allegedly kept asking inmates for information, such as whether she was married and possible places she might be working, to help him locate her.
While an inmate, Keil sought counseling to help her deal with her mistreatment by Bearden. But, her lawsuit further alleges, within a month of beginning therapy with John Thomas Dunn, a counselor in his 60s working for the prison’s mental health contractor, MHM Services, he also began sexually assaulting her, sometimes pretending it was part of her therapy – for example, by imitating Bearden’s attacks and asking her whether the guard had done “it like this.”
Dunn, who began working for Corizon Health, after it got the contract for all health care in Missouri state prisons, last year entered a guilty plea to criminal charges of sexual conduct with a prisoner, not Keil, and awaits sentencing. Keil claims that Dunn warned her if she reported his assaults to the state agency, she would probably be put in solitary confinement.
Even more recently, Bearden was named as a defendant in second sexual assault lawsuit filed by another Chillicothe inmate. Like Keil, the new plaintiff claims Bearden’s attack followed an escalating series of incidents of verbal and physical misconduct. After the new case was filed June 5, a Missouri Department of Corrections spokesperson confirmed that Bearden was still employed by the agency, but added he was due to retire soon. Both lawsuits were brought for the inmates by the legal clinic at the St. Louis University School of Law, working with a St. Louis law firm.
Both Keil and the second plaintiff named as a defendant in their suits the state’s supervisor for Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) programs, and included as unnamed defendants the Chillicothe officials responsible for carrying out PREA duties there and for supervising Bearden.
Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014). He regularly contributes to New York Daily News, Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News. He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonerResource.com.