The Colorado Department of Corrections paid $300,000 on Monday to a woman who said she was sexually assaulted while wearing a hidden microphone to help prison investigators record a canteen supervisor at a women’s prison in Denver accused of harassing and assaulting her and other inmates.
The settlement was awarded to Susan Ullery, who sued the state’s prison former executive director and several employees at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, for failing to protect her in 2016 from a former prison guard who she said repeatedly harassed and groped her while she was working her prison job, according to court documents filed in U.S. District Court in Denver. CDOC did not admit liability as part of the deal.
“She is a prisoner in the custody of the state of Colorado, she has no ability to defend herself against someone in a position of authority,” Ullery’s attorney David Lane said. “She felt utterly and completely helpless. There was nothing she could do.”
The civil rights lawsuit accused Bruce Bradley, a former CDOC supervisor, of harassing Ullery and other women at the prison for nearly 10 years while he was employed by CDOC, despite complaints filed against him and investigations into his conduct. When Ullery complained, prison staff acknowledged prior complaints, but said they had no proof.
Ullery, who was released from prison in 2016, said she reluctantly wore a recording device after being assured that prison staff would listen and intervene if anything were to happen while she was alone with her supervisor in his private office. Staff didn’t come into the office to get her until after the assault, which she said lasted 3 minutes.
Bradley was never charged. A month later, he resigned in lieu of termination in 2016, court documents stated. His lawyer said Bradley admitted no liability and did not pay any portion of the CDOC settlement.
CDOC took Ullery’s complaints “very seriously” and its Inspector General’s Office launched an investigation, according to spokeswoman Annie Skinner. A lawyer working for the state attorney general’s office, representing the eight other CDOC employees named in the lawsuit, did not immediately return requests for comment.
For years after being released from prison, Ullery said she suffered from nightmares and flashbacks from the assaults, according to court documents. She was prescribed medication to treat night terrors.
She said she feels “humiliated and disgusted” with herself, often shutting herself off from others for days at a time and feels that she may never be able to heal from the pain inflicted by the assault, the documents stated.
According to the lawsuit, Bradley began assaulting Ullery in 2014 while she was assigned to unload goods from trucks at the prison’s loading dock. He watched Ullery and three of her co-workers after they took off their work boots and socks to relieve the blisters that formed while working on the dock and told them he wanted them to wear red nail polish, as it was his favorite color. Days later, he told the women it was time for a “pedi check.” He acted rudely toward those who refused to show him their feet and those who had not painted their toes. He also recounted to Ullery details of sexual acts with his wife, the documents stated.
His behavior reportedly escalated about eight months into Ullery’s assignment on the dock when Bradley approached her from behind and forcefully pressed his genitals into her butt, moaning into her ear. He did this every time she was working inventory, court documents stated.
She made a complaint with Investigator Scott Smith, who was also named in the lawsuit, and was told that DOC had received numerous complaints about Bradley sexually harassing women over the 10 years he had worked for the prison system, but every time an investigation was launched “it became a he said/she said situation,” court documents stated.
When investigators asked Ullery to wear a wiretap to record Bradley, she initially refused because she said she feared retaliation and losing her parole. But she agreed after being assured that they would be listening and would interfere if anything were to happen while she was with Bradley in his office.
But the listening device “malfunctioned” and no one came until after Bradley allegedly demanded Ullery show him her breasts, forced her against a wall and groped her, court documents stated.
Ullery was removed from her job to avoid working with Bradley, who was placed on administrative leave and then resigned about a month later.
Inmates who were upset with Bradley’s departure threatened to hurt Ullery. Some made death threats. She stopped sleeping because she feared she would be attacked in her sleep, suffered night terrors and didn’t leave her unit, fearing she would be killed. She asked to eat in solitary confinement, where she said she could feel safe.
“For 90 days until she was released on parole, Ms. Ullery lived in constant fear that at any moment she would be killed or assaulted,” the court documents stated.
The lawsuit, filed in 2018, also named a former director of the state’s prison system, Rick Raemisch, and David Johnson, who was the warden for Denver Women’s Correctional Facility at the time, and associate warden Terry Jaques. Prison employees David Wang, David Urich and Ramona Avant were also named, as well as Chief Investigator Danny Lake.
Lane hopes the settlement prompts “outrage” among Colorado taxpayers, leading to action by the new administration in the state’s prison system.
“They can’t tolerate this stuff,” Lane said.
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