State human rights commission closes investigation of Fayette County jail

jmadden@herald-leader.comNovember 21, 2013 

The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights decided to close its investigation into discrimination complaints against the Fayette County Detention Center, according to a news release Thursday.

"Because a formal complaint of discrimination had not been filed with the commission by any employee of the detention center, the commission's investigative powers were limited," the release said. The commission noted that no discrimination complaints have been filed in the three years it has been investigating the detention center.

In 2010, then-Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry called for the commission to conduct an independent investigation after allegations of "a sexually hostile work environment" at the Fayette County Detention Center.

The commission, a state agency, routinely investigates claims of sexual harassment. It performed the investigation at no charge to the city.

The investigation lasted from January 2010 to July 2010. At the time, the detention center faced at least three lawsuits alleging sexual harassment, sexual discrimination or retaliation by male corrections officers.

The three lawsuits and other jail documents outlined allegations of sexual misconduct and other inappropriate behavior by male employees at the jail against female inmates and a corrections officer.

In 2012, a Fayette Circuit Court jury awarded Fayette County Detention center Corporal Charlotte Trotter $60,000, agreeing that she was sexually harassed on the job in 2009.

Corrections officer Tanya Newcomb filed a lawsuit in 2009 with allegations of retaliation, sexual discrimination or harassment by male employees.

In 2011, Kevin Michael Lawson, a former corrections officer, was charged with sexual abuse and indecent exposure after allegedly exposing himself to an inmate. According to court records, Lawson was on duty when he was filmed on jail surveillance video following a female inmate into a bathroom, where they remained for about five minutes. Records indicate the inmate told officers Lawson exposed himself to her.

During Teresa Isaac's term as mayor from 2003 to 2007, the FBI began investigating the facility after receiving reports that jail staff members were assaulting inmates and writing false reports to cover up the abuse.

Five jail employees faced federal charges for the abuse in 2008. Three pleaded guilty, and the two who went to trial were sentenced to prison.

Staff writer Valarie Honeycutt Spears contributed to this report. Justin Madden: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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