Coffee Creek inmate sues corrections agency amid criminal case

By Ben Botkin (Oregon Capital Chronicle)
Dec. 29, 2023 7:51 p.m.

The incarcerated woman alleges she faced retaliation in the prison after a corrections officer was charged with sexually abusing her

The outside of Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville on Friday, Aug. 18, 2023. The facility is Oregon’s only women’s prison.

The outside of Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville on Friday, Aug. 18, 2023. The facility is Oregon’s only women’s prison.

Ben Botkin / Oregon Capital Chronicle

Warning: This story contains disturbing details of alleged rape, physical and verbal abuse.


An incarcerated woman at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility alleged in a federal lawsuit she faces an ongoing barrage of abuse and retaliation after a corrections officer repeatedly sexually assaulted her in Oregon’s only women’s prison.

That corrections officer, Sgt. Levi Gray, 47, was charged in August with two counts of two felony counts of first-degree custodial sexual misconduct in connection and two misdemeanor charges of official misconduct. He has pleaded not guilty in Washington County Circuit Court and is on administrative leave with a trial set for May.

The woman’s federal lawsuit, filed on Wednesday with legal representation from advocacy watchdog Disability Rights Oregon, sheds more light on the case and raises questions about the treatment of incarcerated women at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility. The Wilsonville prison has more than 800 female inmates.

“There is clearly a culture of sexual violence at Coffee Creek and a system that condoned it by refusing to put a stop to it,” Jake Cornett, executive director and CEO of Disability Rights Oregon, said in a statement. “The behavior of Oregon’s corrections system in this case is disgusting and cannot be tolerated in the U.S. There is never just one bad apple when frequent and prolonged sexual assault is tolerated, retaliation is taken by staff and meaningful treatment is denied.”

Related: Oregon corrections officer charged with sexual abuse faced earlier investigation, but DA declined to charge him

The lawsuit was filed against Mike Reese, superintendent of the Oregon Department of Corrections; Chad Naugle, assistant superintendent of security at Coffee Creek; Nichole Brown, superintendent of the prison, and about 10 other prison employees who have worked directly with the inmate. A spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Corrections, which runs the prison, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The prison is under heightened scrutiny. A 229-page state report released in August found the prison has a retaliatory culture that discourages the reporting sexual abuse and other wrongdoing. In response, Gov. Tina Kotek ordered the prison to make immediate improvements, including more security cameras, and convened an advisory panel to find long-term solutions. But other advocates, including the Oregon Justice Resource Center, say the state’s response is not enough.

The lawsuit alleges Gray sexually abused the woman for a two-month period in April and May while she was in a disciplinary segregation unit, commonly called solitary confinement. Other officers knew or should have known about the abuse, but failed to stop it, the lawsuit said. Since then, the inmate has faced retaliation, including harmful and harassing behavior that “demonstrates ODOC management’s complete inability to operate a woman’s prison without violating minimal constitutional protections,” the lawsuit said.

Lawsuit: Abuse lasted months

The lawsuit alleges the inmate first met Gray when she was on suicide watch and he began behaving inappropriately toward her.

The plaintiff, who filed the lawsuit under her initials to preserve her privacy, is 20 years old and has mental health conditions diagnosed since her incarceration. She was a sex trafficking victim while a teenager and has a history of suicide attempts and injuring herself to deal with stress, anger and emotional pain, the lawsuit said.

Since April, she has been housed in the disciplinary segregation unit, the lawsuit said. Gray allegedly had her moved to a cell that was near an enclosed area with no camera so he could abuse her, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit alleges Gray repeatedly sexually abused her, throwing her against a wall and groping her while she was handcuffed, choking her while kissing her and hitting her. The lawsuit also alleges Gray yanked her with the leash attached to her handcuffs and forced her to perform oral sex on him. The abuse lasted 40 minutes or longer, sometimes two or more times each day during a two-month period, the lawsuit said.

Related: Correctional officer at Oregon women’s prison charged with sexual misconduct

The lawsuit alleges high-ranking corrections officers failed to ensure the agency conducted rounds in the segregation unit so that sexual abuse could be reported.

The corrections agency has failed to take meaningful action to prevent sexual abuse of women in custody, the lawsuit said.

For example, the prison’s prior compliance manager to enforce the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act was on administrative leave from April 2022 until her termination this October and engaged in an “improper relationship” with an inmate, the lawsuit alleges.

That former manager, who is not named in court documents, also worked for years as an investigator of sexual abuse at the prison, compromising those investigations, the lawsuit alleges.


Retaliation alleged

The inmate alleges problems persisted after she reported Gray for alleged sexual abuse and went to a hospital for a rape exam. After her return from the hospital, she was placed in a cell with feces on the wall and had to clean her cell, the lawsuit said.

And she returned to the same disciplinary unit where the abuse happened and she was around other officers who had worked with Gray, the lawsuit said.

At different points, she alleges she faced hostility.  Six days after the abuse stopped, she was on suicide watch, wearing only a smock and no undergarments. She alleges she asked a female corrections officer to put on her leg restraints.

Related: Oregon fails to support women in prison, report finds

Lt. Jayson Leak, a superior officer, allegedly yelled at her:  “You don’t get to dictate what my staff do! I don’t care what happened to you, you are going to be treated like any other (inmate).”

In another instance, Capt. Thomas Jost allegedly told her in writing: “You are getting exactly what you have coming to you” when she asked why she didn’t have canteen access.

In another case, she alleges Paul Kizer, a corrections officer, sexually harassed her after she reported Gray and law enforcement started to investigate. The lawsuit alleges he continued to work on her unit even after she filed a complaint.

The lawsuit alleges how the inmate is trapped in a cycle: She is housed in the same unit where she was sexually abused and forced to interact with officers who failed to stop or discover her abuse. This dynamic makes it difficult to have civil interactions with them and at times, the officers provoked her, the lawsuit said.

For example, the prison denies her access to outdoor time for months on end, denies her showers and clean underwear, refuses to allow her to call her sexual abuse advocate and fails to supply her adequately with tampons, medication and legal paperwork to file grievances, according to the lawsuit.

Related: After critical report, Oregon Department of Corrections plans changes at women’s prison

The lawsuit also alleges the prison staff have served her fish even though she is allergic and offered medication out of a previously used cup.

The lawsuit alleges correctional officers and the prison’s grievance coordinator ignored her complaints about another inmate who sexually harassed her, yelling at her for weeks about the abuse. The grievance was denied and no action taken until lawyers got involved, the lawsuit said.

“It took emails from (her) lawyer and Disability Rights Oregon to Oregon Department of Justice lawyers to get the problem resolved,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also takes aim at the prison’s culture, including the nicknames high-ranking officers in the segregation unit gave themselves. Lt. Robert Yonally, for example, had a sticker of the Marvel character the “Punisher,” who murders and tortures criminals,  on his work door in the disciplinary segregation unit, the lawsuit said. Another, Lt. Jayson Leak, called himself “Darth Vader” in his email signature, the lawsuit alleges, with an attached screen grab in the file as evidence.

“This mind-bending immaturity of the… lieutenants pretending to be villainous superheroes in their day-to-day management of traumatized women is not something they hid,” the lawsuit said. “This breathtaking lack of professionalism was on full display.”

Leak even used the Darth Vader signature in an email about the victim’s management plan, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit seeks damages and a court order to place the inmate in a different setting where she can receive therapy and care, such as Oregon State Hospital.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988, or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

This story was originally published by the Oregon Capital Chronicle.

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