Home Sexual Assault Cases U.S. Pays $4.2 Million to Victims of Jail Guard’s Long-Running Sex Abuse

U.S. Pays $4.2 Million to Victims of Jail Guard’s Long-Running Sex Abuse

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Colin Akparanta, a former correctional officer in a Manhattan federal jail, admitted in 2020 to sexually abusing seven female prisoners. He pleaded guilty to abusing one and depriving her of her civil rights and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

A price is still being paid — by his victims and the government.

In recent weeks, the government quietly paid $3 million to settle a lawsuit filed by three women who said they were sexually abused by Mr. Akparanta while being held in the Metropolitan Correctional Center. That deal followed a $1.18 million settlement by the government last year in a suit brought by three other women with similar sexual abuse claims against Mr. Akparanta.

Mr. Akparanta, 46, was indicted in 2019, accused of using his official authority to engage in abusive sexual contact with female prisoners at the now-closed M.C.C. between 2012 and 2018.

In some cases, prosecutors have said, he abused victims in the “Bubble,” a control room out of the view of security cameras, and in other cases, he digitally penetrated victims being held in solitary confinement through a slot in their cell door. Other victims were abused in their own cells, the lawsuits said. Mr. Akparanta told his victims not to tell anyone.

“He would take away their privileges; he would change their cell assignments, basically flaunting his power and telling them that he’s close with the warden, nothing will ever come out of it,” said Jaehyun Oh, a lawyer with the Jacob Fuchsberg Law Firm, who represented the plaintiffs in the $3 million settlement.

The payments are just the most recent setback for New York City’s federal lockups, which over the years have held defendants, most of them waiting for trials, often in some of the nation’s highest-profile prosecutions. Conditions at the M.C.C. deteriorated so much that the Justice Department last August said it would close the jail, at least temporarily. The Bureau of Prisons’s website says there are no inmates currently housed at the facility.

The transfer of hundreds of those prisoners to Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center only aggravated the already dismal conditions there, said Deirdre von Dornum, the head of that district’s federal defenders’ office, which represents most prisoners at that jail. In the recent past, both Ghislaine Maxwell, convicted of helping the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein recruit and abuse minors, and the singer R. Kelly, found guilty of sexually abusing women, complained in court filings about their treatment and conditions there.

The M.C.C., a high-security lockup, held terrorists, mobsters and international narcotics traffickers, including Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo.

It was perhaps most notorious as the jail where Mr. Epstein was found dead in a cell in August 2019, having hanged himself while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. Two guards later were accused of failing to check in on him as required on the night before he died; instead, the guards were surfing the internet or napping, prosecutors said.

There have been other major settlements in recent years in lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by correctional officers at the M.C.C. and its counterpart jail in Brooklyn. In 2020, the government agreed to pay $365,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a female prisoner who prosecutors said was raped by an officer in an M.C.C. corridor that did not have video cameras, court filings show. The victim’s lawyer, Robert A. Soloway, said the government also agreed to forgive much of the money the victim had been ordered to forfeit in her criminal case.

The officer, Rudell L. Clark Mullings, who was prosecuted by the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn, pleaded guilty to sexual abuse of an inmate and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

The two lawsuits settled on behalf of the six women who said they were sexually abused by Mr. Akparanta make it clear that his conduct was not a secret nor unique at the M.C.C., and that he sexually assaulted at least 14 inmates, two of whom made complaints against him. He was nonetheless allowed to work shifts in which he was the only officer on duty in the women’s unit, the suits said.

“M.C.C. leadership and employees were on notice of Akparanta’s brazen misconduct but repeatedly turned a blind eye, allowing him to sexually abuse over a dozen victims over the span of many years,” said Amelia Green, a partner with the law firm Neufeld, Scheck & Brustin, who represented the women in the $1.18 million settlement.

Ms. Oh, the lawyer who handled the $3 million settlement, said it showed there was at least “a way to hold the government accountable — not just the individual who did it, as if they are just like one bad apple that fell far from the tree.”

“This can only be allowed to go on for so long and so frequently in that kind of controlled environment by the complicity of other people, in my opinion,” Ms. Oh said.

The Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. attorney’s office each declined to comment.

In Mr. Akparanta’s case, federal prosecutors in Manhattan said he digitally penetrated his victims’ vaginas, causing pain in some cases, and he touched their breasts, buttocks and genitalia. He had one victim perform oral sex on him in her cell. In the case of another victim, he locked down a unit and escorted her to the shower, where he fondled her breasts and crotch, the government said.

Prosecutors said he also smuggled into the jail personal hygiene items, makeup, food and other contraband, which he gave to some victims. They said in some cases, he asked victims for their contact information in order to reach them after their release.

“Akparanta was a predator in uniform,” said Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan at the time, when charges were announced.

Mr. Akparanta’s lawyer, Nicholas Kaizer, said last week that his client had been a decorated correctional officer who had protected inmates and staff members.

“At his guilty plea, he acknowledged inappropriate relations with several inmates in exchange for gifts such as cigarettes, makeup and sundries with those inmates,” Mr. Kaizer said. “He is paying the price for his mistake through his loss of freedom, employment and pension.”

Carolyn Richardson, one of the plaintiffs sharing in the $3 million settlement, is now serving her sentence at another federal prison, in Florida.

She said in a statement conveyed through her lawyer that she never had gotten over the fear of not knowing whether Mr. Akparanta would enter her cell and sexually assault her. “Even now,” she wrote, “I still get messed up when I see lights in the middle of the night and hear the sound of the keys.”



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