The same South Carolina jail that accidentally set a murderer free in February is under scrutiny again after officials mistakenly placed a man in a female inmate's cell, who then allegedly molested her.
The incident occurred in the booking area of the York County Detention Center in York, S.C., on Saturday morning, between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., when the jail cells are cleaned and disinfected, said Kristie Jordan, general counsel at the York County Sheriff's Office.
Typically, when detainees occupy a cell that is scheduled for cleaning, officers will move them to a temporary cell, and escort them back when it is time to return.
But this time, they failed to follow protocol.
"The detention officers who were in the booking area that morning failed to check to see if they were putting this individual into a cell that was empty," said Jordan. "And then they also failed to escort him from his cell to that cell."
If officers had checked, they would have found a woman who was asleep, facing the wall with a blanket over her head, Jordan said.
But since they failed to do so, James Henry Richardson, 33, of Rock Hill, S.C., was able to enter the woman's booking cell, and allegedly grope her inappropriately.
Five minutes later, the woman was at the front window of the cell, banging on it to get the guards' attention, Jordan said.
"When she came out, she alleged to the guards that [Richardson] had touched her breasts and genital area," she said.
Following the incident, the woman was taken for examination off-site with a sexual assault nurse examiner. Jordan said she has since bonded out of jail. She did not know what she was charged with.
Jordan said that since the incident, Richardson has been charged with second-degree assault and battery.
Because it is a sex-related charge, York County does not release the name of the victim, she said.
Sexual assault within the prison system is "serious problem persistent around the United States," said Dori Lewis, senior supervising attorney of the Prisoners' Rights Project at the New York City Legal Aid Society.
While Lewis says that the Prison Rape Elimination Act, passed unanimously in 2003 to establish standards to prevent, detect and respond to prison rape, is "an important, significant first step in ameliorating the problem," she is concerned that the lack of requirements for surveillance weakens prevention efforts.
"I believe video monitoring is critical," she said, "Sexual abuse happens in private."
Richardson's charge could potentially add time to his sentence. He is currently in York County Detention Center for a number of offenses, including a chop-shop violation.
As for the officers involved, Jordan said they received immediate suspension with pay following the incident.
"The officers will certainly be disciplined," she said. "We've pretty much finalized the investigatory stage. Now we're in review."
Jordan anticipates that the officers' review will conclude by tomorrow.
Earlier this year, the York County Detention Center accidentally released Thomas Whitlock, who was convicted of murder. Whitlock has since been apprehended, and is serving his sentence in a North Carolina prison.
Jordan says the Detention Center was of no fault in Whitlock's circumstance, but it was a "failure to have procedures in place on the enforcement side."
The officers involved with Whitlock's mistaken release received a written reprimand, but still hold their positions at the Sheriff's office, she said.
While Jordan says there are "adequate procedures in place" at York County Detention Center, she says the sheriff's office has plans ensure an incident like this doesn't happen again.