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Representatives for Clark County reach $370,500 settlement with 28 women in jail breach

Clark County jail exterior view
Aprile Rickert
Dozens of women incarcerated at the Clark County jail were harassed or assaulted by men incarcerated there in 2021, lawyers said.

Representatives for Clark County finalized settlements this year with nearly 30 women who say they were harassed or assaulted during a 2021 jail security breach. Records show most received $10,000 or less.

The women say they were threatened, harassed and in two cases sexually assaulted during the breach.

Most of the women were plaintiffs in federal lawsuits filed against the former and current sheriff’s office administration and staff, though two settled without being part of a lawsuit. The last of the agreements was reached in March.

Attorneys for the women say the administration and staff failed to keep their clients safe when, in late October 2021, men incarcerated at the jail were able to access the women’s area.

Former jail officer David Lowe is accused of selling keys to the men. He was named in the federal lawsuits and is also facing criminal charges in state court. His trial is scheduled for July 23.

Settlement documents obtained by LPM News show between last September and this March, 28 women entered agreements for monetary compensation.

The sheriff’s office confirmed there were 55 women in custody on Oct. 23 and 24, 2021, around the time of the breach, and that most would have been in the main women’s area.

In total, Clark County’s liability insurance company negotiated and paid out $370,500. Individual amounts ranged from $7,500 to $25,000; more than half of those payouts were $10,000 or less. In one case, a settlement was reached with the representative of a plaintiff who had died.

The settlements stipulate they are not an admission of wrongdoing. In the documents, the current administration denies that any sheriff’s office policies or procedures led to the alleged incidents, and they and the other defendants deny violating the women’s constitutional or state law rights.

Lowe also denies the allegations, and the settlements stipulate they will not be used against him in his criminal trial.

According to the settlements, the parties “have determined it is in their mutual interest to resolve the disputes that have arisen between them without the time and expense of litigation.”

Attorneys Perry McCall and Bart Betteau represented the majority of plaintiffs. McCall previously declined to discuss specific settlement amounts, saying the agreements prevented him from doing so.

But he did say he felt the plaintiffs, some of whom may have financial hardships, were offered and ultimately accepted settlements that were “not commensurate with the level of damages that they had sustained.”

He said the first of the agreements, settled with other counsel, seemed to start a chain reaction, with their clients later broaching the possibility of settlements.

He also previously said he hoped at least one of the cases would have made it to trial.

Initial filings listed Jamey Noel, in his capacity as sheriff at the time of the breach, as a defendant in the lawsuits. His administration launched a website in 2022 acknowledging that men had accessed the women’s area, but it disputed the length of time of the incident and what the women say happened. The site has since been removed.

Current Clark County Sheriff Scottie Maples, who took office in 2023, was later added to the jail lawsuits in his capacity as sheriff.

Noel is facing 31 felonies including theft and tax evasion, as part of a now yearlong unrelated investigation by Indiana State Police. The investigation has so far focused on Noel’s time as sheriff and in leading the Utica Township Volunteer Firefighters Association, also known as New Chapel EMS.

Maples declined to comment on the jail lawsuits or settlements, deferring LPM News to county attorney Scott Lewis.

Lewis previously provided the settlement documents per LPM’s request, and explained that they are litigated and paid out by the county’s liability insurance company without additional approval by county officials.

Lewis did not respond to additional request for comment on the settlement amounts or how they compared with other Clark County settlements.

A look at other settlements

Settlements can vary greatly in cases where people have claims of harassment, assault or abuse while in custody.

In 2021, the New Jersey Department of Corrections announced a $21 million settlement for alleged sexual harassment and abuse at the Edna Mahan Correctional facility for Women over several years.

The settlement resolved multiple lawsuits, including a class action lawsuit with compensation tiers based on claims. Those who had been sexually harassed could receive up to $4,500. Those who had experienced direct sexual abuse were eligible for up to $250,000 but received on average less than $55,000.

A man who said he was physically and sexually assaulted in 2022 over several hours while being held in a Brazos County, Texas, facility received a half a million dollar settlement. He was a minor at the time and was allegedly abused by other minors in custody.

KAGS TV reported staff did not monitor the area in person at the time of the abuse and that an intercom system to allow incarcerated people to alert staff was not working properly.

The Courier Journal reported in 2020 a $1.1 million settlement with eight women who say they were abused over eight months at the Larue County Detention Center in Kentucky.

Sheriff’s office upgrades

Current Clark County Sheriff Maples said there have been improvements over the past two and a half years to enhance jail security, both following the incident and after he took office in 2023.

In October 2021, men and women were housed together on the same floor. Following the breach, Noel had the men moved to another area.

Maples made additional changes as part of a system-wide look at the jail and sheriff’s office. He said he would have pushed for improvements regardless of the 2021 incident.

He now tries to staff the women’s area with only female corrections officers, and no male inmates are allowed on the floor. The women incarcerated there handle tasks like doing their own laundry to limit the need for outside staffing.

“They basically maintain that area, in itself, [which] eliminates any potential for male inmates to get into that area,” he said. “So there's no chance for that situation to happen again, at all.”

To access the area where women are housed, Maples said a person would have to go through several locked doors and an elevator before being met by an officer and another locked door.

A black cell door at the Clark County jail
Clark County Sheriff's Office
Security improvements at the Clark County jail include the addition of cell doors in a men's area that previously didn't have them.

Other changes during Maples’ term include a $1.2 million capital improvement project to install doors on the cells in the only men’s area that didn’t have them. That prevents people from walking around the section at night, which Maples said has improved safety for officers and inmates.

Maples said they’ve also bolstered staff training and that turnover is much lower than in recent years. In 2022, the sheriff’s office hired 68 corrections officers over the course of the year due to staff turnover. He said as of this May, they had lost seven staff members and are fully staffed.

The sheriff’s office has roughly 150 employees. The jail also recently received a positive state inspection with no negative marks.

Coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by Samtec Inc., the Hazel & Walter T. Bales Foundation, and the Caesars Foundation of Floyd County. 

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.

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