Ill. Woman Wins $19.3M From Jury In Prison Sex Abuse Case

By Lauraann Wood | September 25, 2023, 8:08 PM EDT ·

An Illinois federal jury has awarded more than $19 million to a woman who alleged her counselor raped and sexually assaulted her for seven months while she was serving a prison sentence at Logan Correctional Center.

On Friday, the jury deliberated for just four hours before awarding the woman, an Elgin, Illinois, resident proceeding under the pseudonym Jane Doe, $8 million in compensatory damages and $11.3 million in punitive damages against prison counselor Richard Macleod, head prison investigator Todd Sexton and warden Margaret Burke. Doe launched her lawsuit in 2018, saying the abuse she experienced while trying to maintain weekly phone calls with her daughter violated her constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

Macleod, who was found liable for the assault after he'd defaulted in the case, must pay $10 million of Doe's total punitive damages award. Sexton must fork over $800,000 in punitive damages, and Burke is on the hook for $500,000, the verdict form shows.

Britt Cramer and Jenna Stupar of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, who were part of Doe's trial team, told Law360 Monday the verdict is a remarkable and courtroom-record-setting result for Doe, who was nervous heading into the emotionally difficult trial but grew more visibly confident as the week progressed. It also stands a chance to prompt a meaningful shift in the way prisons handle reports of rape and assault within their facilities, Cramer said.

"On one hand, I'm really hopeful and really proud that this will be something that sparks some change, and on the other hand, I'm really nervous that it won't be," she said. "I love what we were able to do for Jane Doe, but I think this should have a broader impact than that, and I hope the [U.S. Attorney General's] office, the police and investigators at every prison are taking notice of this and are going to do something about this system because it's unreal. This is the only part I know how to do. Somebody else needs to do the rest, and I hope they do."

Representatives for Macleod, Sexton and Burke declined to comment.

Doe was housed at the Logan County, Illinois, facility for most of the prison sentence she'd served in the state Department of Corrections between March 2015 and July 2018, according to her complaint. Among other duties, Macleod was responsible for coordinating and overseeing weekly court-approved phone calls between Doe and her daughter, her attorneys said.

The counselor sexually assaulted and harassed Doe regularly as part of that weekly process, she asserted in her complaint. For example, he regularly exposed himself and made sexual comments while Doe talked with her daughter, and he coerced her to have nonconsensual sex twice, she said. On two other occasions, Macleod coerced Doe to perform nonconsensual oral sex on him, her complaint said.

Sexton interviewed Doe about her experience with Macleod in early August 2017, after receiving information from an unknown source, but Doe initially refrained from discussing Macleod's abuse because she was afraid of retaliation, she told the court. Doe eventually discussed her experience with the investigator, but she was then involuntarily transferred to a different prison facility where she couldn't immediately continue her weekly phone calls, wouldn't be able to see her family as often or continue the cosmetology courses she'd been taking at the Logan facility, her suit stated.

Macleod's work emails demonstrated during trial that harassing women was a pattern for the counselor, Doe's attorneys said. After hearing one such email read aloud and being asked of his thoughts, Sexton testified during trial that he thought Macleod was "a sexual predator," Cramer said.

"You couldn't read these emails without coming to the same conclusion," she said.

Sexton also testified that he never looked into Macleod's work emails as part of his investigation, and he opted to crawl through the prison ceiling to try to catch the counselor in the act of abusing Doe rather than perform the steps required under the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act to investigate her report, she alleged.

Despite the evidence in Doe's case, she never received an apology for the abuse she experienced, her attorneys said. Burke acknowledged only that Sexton had made "missteps" in his investigation, and during trial closings, defense counsel asserted that Sexton "did exactly what he was supposed to do" when it came to investigating Doe's abuse, Stupar said.

"That was honestly the most chilling part of the trial to me, that they openly admitted they didn't follow the law and used our client as literal rape bait, and then had no remorse about it," she added.

Doe initially demanded a $5 million settlement over the abuse, and the prison officials responded by offering $10,000, her attorneys said. U.S. District Judge Sue Myerscough urged the parties to negotiate a settlement after she issued a summary judgment ruling in the case, but those discussions fell flat when the officials cut their initial offer in half during a subsequent mediation, the lawyers said. The state's highest settlement offer was $50,000, they noted.

"The amazing thing about this verdict is the jury responded loud and clear to what they heard that this is not OK," Stupar said. "The jury sent a resounding message, but at the same time there's still so much work to be done, and we hope that other departments of corrections and state and local facilities will hear that message and start to enforce the laws that congress enshrined 20 years ago to eliminate rape in prison."

Christina Sharkey of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP, who also represented Doe, told Law360 in a written statement that "after five years litigating this case alongside Ms. Doe, we could not be prouder of this verdict."

"It sends a message to correctional center staff everywhere that ignoring the constitutional rights of the prisoners housed at their facilities will not be tolerated," Sharkey said. "We applaud our client for standing up for herself, despite being conditioned to believe that if she did, she would be ignored."

Doe is represented pro bono by Britt Cramer, Jenna Stupar, Claire Stephens, Evelyn Cai, Jennifer Mancini, Jessica Giulitto, Reid McEllrath and Sarah Legault of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, and Alan Mills and Nicole Schult of Uptown People's Law Center. Also representing Doe is Christina Sharkey, who was formerly a Kirkland attorney, but is now with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP.

Burke and Sexton are represented by Christopher Higgerson and Jennifer Powell of the Office of the Illinois Attorney General.

The case is Doe v. Macleod et al., case number 3:18-cv-03191, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois.

--Editing by Covey Son.

Update: This story has been update to include additional comment from Doe's counsel.

Hello! I'm Law360's automated support bot.

How can I help you today?

For example, you can type:
  • I forgot my password
  • I took a free trial but didn't get a verification email
  • How do I sign up for a newsletter?
Ask a question!