PLN quoted on pro se prisoner who wins lawsuit at jury trial
Inmate alleges that prison staffer forced him to have sex - and wins in court
SEPTEMBER 21, 2017 4:05 PM
A North Carolina inmate has won a federal lawsuit alleging that a prison staff member repeatedly pressured him to have sex.
Inmate Timothy King contended in his suit that he and Chariesse Boyd, a behavioral health specialist at Maury Correctional Institution, had sex 36 times. King also alleged that, for more than a year, Boyd smuggled drugs, cellphones and tobacco into the eastern North Carolina prison.
On Wednesday, a federal jury in Raleigh ruled that Boyd sexually assaulted King and violated his Constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. The court ordered Boyd to pay King $15,000 in damages.
King, who is serving a life sentence for a 1994 murder, beat the legal odds with his victory. He represented himself at trial, going up against two lawyers with the state Attorney General’s office.
Reached Thursday at the prison, where she still works, Boyd refused to comment. But in court documents, she denied having sex with King and smuggling him contraband. She has not been charged with a crime.
Earlier this year, the Charlotte Observer wrote about King’s claims as part of its investigation into corruption in North Carolina’s prisons.
It’s just one of many cases in which state prison employees have been accused of having sex with inmates.
More than 65 state prison staffers have been fired since 2012 for getting too close to inmates, the Observer found. Their offenses ranged from writing inmates letters to repeatedly having sex with them – a felony. Most of the officers were women accused of getting too familiar with male inmates.
Such affairs are often a first step to more dangerous misconduct, experts say. Prison employees who get involved with inmates are more likely to bring them contraband, such as drugs or weapons, or help them with plots that endanger others. In some cases, prison employees have been accused of helping inmates escape.
State prison officials say they don’t tolerate inappropriate sexual activity in their facilities, and that they often dismiss employees who break the rules.
The state Attorney General’s office “is reviewing the judgment and determining next steps,” an office spokeswoman said. A state prison spokesperson also said the agency is reviewing the decision.
Sex, drugs and cellphones
King’s lawsuit outlined the pair’s alleged year-long relationship and highlighted some of the corruption plaguing North Carolina’s prisons.
King, now 43, got to know Boyd in 2010 in a self-help program she taught at Maury Correctional.
Soon, King alleges, the two partnered for a lucrative contraband business.
King told prison leaders that Boyd made thousands of dollars from the drugs and cellphones that she smuggled into the prison. King said he sold that contraband to inmates and gave the proceeds to Boyd. The scheme, he said, earned Boyd at least $20,000 from April 2010 to August 2011.
According to court filings, King helped pay for Boyd’s Mercedes and her trips to New York.
King also alleged that Boyd sometimes forced him to have sex and asked him to assault certain inmates. She even asked an inmate to attack him when he quit selling contraband, he contends.
In previous interviews with the Observer, King’s daughter, sister and a high school friend separately corroborated many aspects of the inmate’s account.
In 2013, two years after King’s initial grievances, Boyd was disciplined for having an inappropriate relationship with King, records show.
Even if King consented to sexual overtures, it is a felony under state law for prison employees to have sex with inmates.
“That person is always in a position of power over a prisoner,” said Michele Luecking-Sunman, a lawyer for North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, a publicly funded office that advocates for inmates. “A prisoner doesn’t have the liberty to say, ‘I don’t want to be here right now.’ ”
King said that the state initially offered him $5,000 to settle his lawsuit against Boyd. He refused it and went to trial.
The federal court dismissed King’s case against prison leaders, but sided with him in his complaint against Boyd.
A rare victory
Prisoner Legal Services was appointed to represent King for a portion of his case, before he decided to go to trial. Lawyers for the office say they helped him gather evidence and represented him during depositions and at an unsuccessful mediation.
But they and others say it’s rare for inmates to win lawsuits when they represent themselves at trial.
Luecking-Sunman noted that detailed rules govern how parties in federal lawsuits can introduce evidence and address juries.
“It’s definitely not like you see on television,” she said.
King's 25-year-old daughter, Rashida, said she was relieved – and surprised – to see her father win in court.
“My father isn't a lawyer, and he represented himself,” said Rashida King, who testified at the trial. “I wasn't confident that he was going to be able to present all of his evidence.”
Asking an inmate to litigate and win his own case is like “asking a non-doctor to perform brain surgery on himself,” said Alex Friedmann, managing editor of Prison Legal News.
Friedmann estimated that juries side with inmates who represent themselves less than 2 percent of the time.
“That being said, if the facts are on your side … and the law is on your side, presumably, you should win,” Friedmann said.