Fired whistleblower suing Kay County Detention Center and former bosses in federal court

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KAY COUNTY, Okla. (KFOR) - A former Kay County Detention Center employee is suing the jail and her former bosses in federal court alleging she was fired for reporting sexual harassment and blowing the whistle on inmate abuse, including an incident where an inmate was allegedly cuffed in a "crucifixion-type position."

Attorney Mark Hammons filed the lawsuit on behalf of Stephanie Wright against the Kay County Detention Center, jail director Don Jones, and Matthew Ware on Tuesday.

Wright was an administrative lieutenant working for the jail since 2011.

According to the federal complaint, in 2017, a female employee told her they were being sexually harassed by another officer.

"The requirement is if a subordinate employee says 'I'm being sexually harassed,' you’re supposed to do something about that," said Hammons.

Wright alleged she reported the sexual harassment to Lt. Chief of Security Matthew Ware, who "dismissed" her complaint, and that "no responsive action was taken."

She said Jones told her to bring him all future allegations, but again that "no responsive action was taken."

After Wright filed a formal complaint regarding Ware's inappropriate behavior, Jones allegedly told Wright her behavior was "unbecoming" and told her to stop talking about issues with Ware. She also alleges Jones and Ware then became increasingly "combative" with her.

A few months later, Wright learned that an inmate who was sick with cirrhosis of the liver was allegedly "held in a padded cell for approximately forty-two (42) days" that has "no water source, no bed, and has no bathroom facilities outside of a hole in the floor."

She also alleged that she was witness when Ware "ordered an inmate be cuffed and both arms extended out in a crucifixion-type pose for approximately one (1) hour" when the inmate had not been combative or aggressive.

"Part of being convicted of a crime is that you’re subject to punishment," Hammons said, "but you’re never subject to cruelty as part of that, that’s not what goes along with being incarcerated."

Hammons said it wasn't Wright's job but it was her duty when she reported the alleged abuse to the district attorney's office and the OSBI.

"We protect whistleblowers because government operates best when there is accountability," Hammons said. "When the government does something wrong, if someone points the finger and says, you can’t do that, that’s essential to our checks and balances. Otherwise the government runs wild and they do whatever they want to do."

But soon after, Wright was demoted, then fired.

After the Kay County District Attorney recused himself from the investigation, Washington County District Attorney declined to file charges. In a memo, he wrote that convincing a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the incident was "cruel or unusual" or "corporal" punishment would be difficult.

However, he wrote he was also compelled to comment on "what is an obvious culture from the leadership in the facility to cover up mistakes or outright improper behavior and/or policy violations" and that "employees who have come forward and pointed out such events in an effort to protect inmates or the facility have been met with demotion or termination."

Don Jones declined to comment for this story.

The defendants will have 21 days from the time they've been served the complaint to respond.

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