PHILADELPHIA, PA -- Four women say they were forced to share a prison cell with a man because his "anal and penile areas" were inadequately inspected by prison staffers, who sent him to a women's prison, where he stayed for more than a year.The women claim at least one prison officer knew their cellmate was a man, but agreed to let his stay there in exchange for oral sex.
The four women, three of them still inmates, sued the City and County of Philadelphia, its prison system, and several of its divisions and officials, in Federal Court.
According to the 81-page complaint:
In June 2010, a man named Jovanie Saldana was charged with robbery and other offenses and was taken to the Riverside Correctional Facility, a women's prison.
Even though "Saldana's arrest papers clearly stated that he was a man," he was housed at the prison for nearly 14 months, during which time he subjected his cellmates to sexual harassment that included sexual groping, "unwanted stares and sexual leering," breast-touching and "repeated sexual overtures ... in the form of commenting about the size and color of [the women's] nipples," according to the complaint.
Plaintiff Jabrina Barnett claims, "Saldana physically assaulted her by slamming her into the wall of Cell 17 when Ms. Barnett complained about Saldana touching her breasts."
Barnett, Yazmin Gonzales, Katiria Chamorro and Maria Cachola also sued Tennessee-based prison health-care provider Prison Health Services.
The women say prison workers had a prodigious amount of contact with Saldana, including "at least, daily contact for more than 425 days, 19 strip searches, two medical examinations and, at least, one psychological examination."
They claim these contacts included "sexual contact" between Saldana and a defendant correctional officer.
In fact, the women say, high-ranking prison officials discovered Saldana's gender only "after Saldana made accusations that defendant Correctional Officer Ellis forced Saldana into oral sex."
The women claim that "Correctional Officer Ellis knew that Saldana was a man and agreed to act in concert with Saldana to conceal his true identity in exchange for sexual favors, including, but not limited to oral sex."
The woman say "the day-to-day sexual harassment and the day-to-day invasions of their rights to privacy by a male inmate posing as a female inmate" could have been avoided if prison staffers had not "failed to conduct [a] proper strip and body cavity search, inspect and search Saldana's anal and penile areas and to detect Saldana's male genitals."
They say prison officials tried to cover up the fiasco by deleting part of a file that documents "the dates that they [the plaintiffs] were housed in the same cell and housing unit as Saldana."
The Philadelphia Daily News reported in September that Saldana is a cross-dresser, and that the correctional officer accused of assaulting him will not face criminal charges.
The women demand punitive damages for civil rights violations, conspiracy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Their attorney, Brian Humble in Philadelphia, noted in the complaint: "This is not a case of medical malpractice; indeed, a layperson can determine from a visual examination whether they are looking at male or female genitals."