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$1.3 Million Award for Colorado Inmate Sexually Assaulted by Guard: Was Punishment Enough?

By Javier Lavagnino, Esq. on June 11, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

An inmate in Colorado who was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a guard was awarded over $1.3 million by a judge who appeared to be fed up with the Colorado Department of Corrections' failure to properly enforce its policy on inmate sexual abuse. A story by the Denver Post reports that although the inmate settled out of court with the Department of Corrections for $250,000, the judge felt that the "DOC does not effectively enforce a zero-tolerance policy on sexual abuse of inmates" and that was "one reason he set the damages so high."

Although the monetary award is a form of justice for the victim, some might wonder whether the money was sufficient punishment for the guard's misconduct? Shouldn't this guy be in prison too? One might think that if a serious sex offense (much less multiple instances) was involved, a long jail term would be likely.

Well, reportedly the guard, former sergeant LeShawn Terrell, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor unlawful sexual contact and received a 60 day jail sentence. The judge in the civil suit himself "criticized that sentence as too short" according to the story, and perhaps the relatively light criminal punishment lent weight to the decision to impose such hefty punitive damages against Terrell.

According to the Denver Post, the amount of compensatory damages awarded to the inmate was $354,070, which accounts for the costs of her medical care and emotional suffering. The lion's share of the damages were made up for by the $1 million punitive damages award imposed to punish Terrell for the "disturbing circumstances" of the case, and also in the judge's hope that the "damages would be a deterrent to other correctional officers."

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