Suit targets county, former Truckee jailer | SierraSun.com
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Suit targets county, former Truckee jailer

KEVIN MILLER

Through its policies and procedures, or lack thereof, the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office violated the civil rights of female inmates at its Truckee substation, a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges.

The suit, driven by complaints from 11 women alleging former Truckee jailer Bobby “B.A.” Rutledge sexually assaulted them behind bars, asks for damages from the county and its former employee.

Auburn attorney Pat Little represents the 11 women.

It is the second lawsuit filed by alleged victims. Rutledge, 29, is charged with 29 criminal counts – including two charges of rape – stemming from the allegations that he molested at least 14 women.

The suit alleges the county knowingly failed to staff the jail properly by not having a woman available to handle female inmates at all times.

The sheriff’s office was made aware of its staffing inadequacy through Board of Corrections inspections. State law says any facility that incarcerates women must have a trained female “assigned, available and accessible” for the supervision of women inmates.

The first of the lawsuits against Nevada County, its sheriff’s office and former correctional officer Bobby “B.A.” Rutledge was filed last week.

Rutledge is accused of raping, fondling, and exposing himself to at least 14 female inmates at the Nevada County Sheriff Office’s substation in Truckee between March and August 1997.

County officials are so concerned about the potential for a multimillion-dollar hit from the alleged misconduct – which is being prosecuted criminally – that an outside legal firm was hired to help defend against the lawsuits.

But that’s precisely opposite of what the county should be doing with regard to the alleged victims, argued attorney David Hoffman, who represents one woman and filed the first lawsuit.

“In a perfect world, we would be reaching out to these people,” Hoffman said.

The county’s entanglement of potential liability goes beyond the employment of Rutledge. For at least the duration of Rutledge’s tenure with the county – since May 1995 – the Truckee jail was operated without a woman always available to care for female inmates, which violates state law, according to reviews done by officials from the Board of Corrections.

Rutledge noted the county’s lack of staffing in a $3.45 million claim against his former employer filed earlier this month.

But Hoffman said the staffing issue isn’t as important as the alleged acts of sexual assault themselves. He didn’t mention the county’s inadequate staffing in the suit that he filed.

Mark Rathe, chief deputy county counsel, said he recognizes the potential for liability on the part of the county, but insists that Rutledge’s alleged activities went beyond the scope of his duties.

Prior to notifying the county of his intention to sue his former employer, Rutledge might have found himself at the same defense table as Rathe and other county legal representatives defending against the women’s claims. But Rathe said Rutledge will have to get his own attorney now, because the county has a conflict of interest in representing him.

Before the anticipated civil cases go before a jury, the criminal case scheduled for a July trial should be decided. Lawyers involved in those civil cases are anxious for a verdict in the criminal matter.

A guilty verdict means Rutledge’s liability isn’t debatable because it secures that the incidents did happen, both Hoffman and Rathe contend.

But the issue of the county’s liability still will need to be determined.

That litigation may proceed in one large case, rather than in 13 individual claims. Rathe suspects the lawsuits – if all filed in the same court – will be consolidated into one, since they each likely will address identical issues.

The civil suits could be settled out of court. Both Hoffman and Rathe said they would look at possible settlements, particularly after the criminal case is completed.

Hoffman said the county shouldn’t excuse itself with simply a monetary settlement. Developing procedures for prisoners to report misbehaving correctional officers without fear of retribution is just as important, he said.

Sierra Sun E-mail: sun@tahoe.com

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