Jury awards $6.7M to inmate raped by guard, shackled during childbirth

MILWAUKEE — A federal jury Wednesday awarded $6.7 million to a woman who was raped repeatedly by a guard when she was being held in a Wisconsin jail four years ago.

The guard, Xavier Thicklen, was acting under his scope of employment when the sexual assaults occurred and therefore Milwaukee County is liable for the damages amount, the jury determined.

The jury also found there was "no legitimate government purpose" to shackle the woman during childbirth, but jurors did not find she was injured and therefore awarded her no monetary damages, said Theresa Kleinhaus, a Chicago attorney who litigated the case.

Kleinhaus said her client was pleased with the verdicts. The plaintiff is not being named because she was a victim of a sexual assault.

"She was raped repeatedly at the age of 19. She sought justice and she is glad the system delivered that justice," Kleinhaus said. "She hopes to prevent other women from being sexually assaulted in the Milwaukee County Jail."

Officials from Milwaukee County did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In the trial, the woman testified that Thicklen assaulted her in various places in the jail and that she still has nightmares.

"He used his keys, his power, his authority to get in these places and rape me," she said during her testimony.

Thicklen was charged with sexual assault and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge. He was fired.

The woman was already pregnant when she was booked into the jail in early 2013. She was shackled as she went through labor later that year. She was admitted to the hospital at 3 a.m. and delivered a healthy baby girl 20 hours later.

In a deposition, Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. defended the practice of shackling, saying it is required to protect hospital staff. The lawsuit claimed such a policy is unconstitutional and can harm the mother and child. During the trial, a midwife testified the shackling could slow labor and endanger the child.

The woman testified that she was not allowed to change position more than a few times during labor, couldn't hold the rails as she wanted, and after the birth she had to be careful not to harm her daughter with the heavy metal handcuffs.

Kleinhaus said her client appreciated that the jury found shackling did not serve a legitimate purpose but contended she suffered psychological harm.

The trial comes as the Sheriff’s Office deals with multiple legal issues and Clarke plans to leave for a job in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Clarke did not testify in the three-day trial.

In March, a second female inmate filed a similar lawsuit related to her shackling as she gave birth. That case is pending.

Follow John Diedrich on Twitter: @john_diedrich 

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