After three women filed lawsuits against the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail, its former administrator and a jail guard convicted of sexually assaulting two of the three women, the jail has said it should not be liable for the guard’s actions.
In filings in two of the lawsuits, the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail argued it couldn’t be held liable for the sexual assaults that occurred on its property, according to documents filed in the Norfolk division of U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
“Defendants deny that they breached any of plaintiff’s constitutional, common law or statutory rights, deny any wrongdoing … and deny that plaintiff is entitled to any relief,” the answer to the suit said.
The jail has sought to have two of the lawsuits tossed from court and has yet to respond to a third lawsuit, according to federal court filings.
Additionally, former jail superintendent John Kuplinski has argued he shouldn’t be involved in one of the suits because he has since retired and no longer represents the jail in any official capacity, according to court filings.
“Since the matter is in litigation he doesn't have any comment,” Kuplinski’s attorney Michael R. Ward said.
In November, former VPRJ correctional officer Henry Thomas Rhim, 55, of Newport News, was sentenced to 12 years in prison with 11 years and four months suspended after he was convicted of sexual battery and carnal knowledge of two inmates, according to filings in Williamsburg-James City County Circuit Court.
Rhim’s victims seek financial damages for the sexual assaults they endured, according to court filings. A third woman stepped forward and said she, too, was sexually assaulted by Rhim, although he was not charged with that crime, according to federal court filings.
The women involved in the case are not named, as they are victims or alleged victims of sexual violence.
In each lawsuit, the victims detail how Rhim sexually molested them in a laundry room at the jail. Rhim also ordered the inmates to sexually touch themselves as he watched. The incidents occurred as Rhim directly supervised them without another correctional officer present.
All three of the lawsuits, filed between Dec. 12, 2018 and April 16, allege the jail did not take adequate measures to keep inmates safe from sexual violence at the hands of correctional officers.
The three women seek a total of $10.1 million in damages and at least $1 million in punitive damages, according to the suits.
Attorneys in the case representing the inmates, the jail, its then-chairman J. Randall Wheeler, Rhim and Kuplinski were not immediately available for comment.
Current jail superintendent Tony Pham told The Virginia Gazette in April he instituted specific reforms to prevent sexual violence against inmates including the creation of a separate internal investigations staff and increased staff trainings.
If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual violence call the Avalon Center Crisis Hotline, available 24 hours daily at 757-258-5051. To talk or schedule an appointment at the Avalon Center, call 757-258-5022.
Roberts can be reached at 757-604-1329, by email at email@example.com and on Twitter @SPRobertsJr.