The Huntsville Times
Female former inmates file sex harassment suit

Allegations against Marshall County jailers include forced oral sex

05/10/02

By LARANDA NICHOLS
Times Staff Writer
larandan@htimes.com

GUNTERSVILLE - Six former female inmates at the Marshall County Jail charge in a federal lawsuit that jail employees sexually harassed them.

The suit alleges that one jail employee forced a prisoner to perform oral sex, and that jail employees asked the women to expose themselves and touched the women on the buttocks and breasts.

Named as defendants are Marshall County and the County Commission, the Sheriff's Department, Sheriff Mac Holcomb and several present and former jail employees. One defendant, Ryan Johnson, resigned as a jailer last year and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor harassment charge involving a female inmate.

The suit claims the women inmates were deprived of their rights while jail employees were working ''under the color of law'' and that the county and the sheriff are liable for their actions.

Holcomb, seeking his third four-year term this year, said the women's attorney, Shane Holloway of Guntersville, ''knows full well we launched the investigation ourselves'' when the allegations were made last year.

''We immediately took action and asked the FBI to come in,'' Holcomb said Thursday. Johnson and another jailer resigned when they were confronted, he said.

All the alleged incidents took place in the jail's booking area. In one case, a female inmate was held more than 24 hours in the booking area and repeatedly harassed verbally before she was moved to the women's cell area, according to the suit.

The sheriff said the lawsuit upset his correctional staff when it was filed in late April, but he told them they should not be ashamed.

''The shame would have been if we had not investigated it,'' Holcomb said.

The suit does not specify a monetary amount for damages. No trial date has been set.