State buys time in inmate rape allegation case

The Colorado Department of Corrections has been granted additional time to respond to a lawsuit accusing a former prison guard of raping and sexually assaulting a female inmate, according to recent district court records.


Corrections department officials, including executive director Ari Zavaras, are defendants in a suit brought by a current inmate at the state-owned Denver Women’s Correctional Facility who claims that she was forcibly raped and sodomized by former guard Lashawn Terrell, who worked at the women’s prison.


In 2006 Terrell was arrested by state authorities on criminal charges of engaging in sexual relations with an inmate, but it’s not known if the two pending cases are related. A warrant was issued for his arrest when he failed to appear for a court hearing on May 20. He was jailed days later.


The department requested more time to interview a witness and to obtain relevant documentation to the case, according to a legal motion filed by state attorneys on June 17, the deadline for a court-ordered response to the accusations.


Court records show District Judge Michael E. Hegarty granted the request a day later, extending the deadline by 14 business days to July 1.


Mari Newman with Killmer, Lane & Newman, a legal firm that focuses on civil liberties issues, filed a lawsuit against Terrell and the state Corrections Department on May 13, claiming that the former guard treated her client “as a virtual sex slave” at the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility by forcibly raping her to the point that she was physically injured, prompting a cellmate to notify department authorities when she noticed the inmate was bleeding upon returning to her cell.


The legal filing for the lawsuit alleges that the female inmate at the women’s correctional facility was raped on a consistent basis for nearly six months in 2006 and was given small amounts of "money, stamps, and coffee” by Terrell in exchange for the sexual acts.


Newman claims department officials were negligent in failing to stop the abuse, and stated in the legal brief that other female inmates have reported seeing Terrell engaging in sexual behavior with other women incarcerated in the facility.


Officials with the Department of Corrections declined to comment on the pending litigation. Attempts to contact Terrell were unsuccessful.

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About the Author

Erin Rosa

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature.

Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state.

Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters.

She can be reached at erosa@coloradoindependent.com.

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