Washington senator proposes harsher penalties for jail guards who sexually abuse inmates

As a result of a KING 5 investigation, a state senator is working to change state law to impose harsher penalties on law enforcement officers who commit sex crimes.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – As a result of a KING 5 investigation, a Washington senator is working to change state law to impose harsher penalties on law enforcement officers who commit sex crimes.

Sen. Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley) said he will sponsor a bill in January when the Washington state legislature meets that would raise the felony of first-degree sexual misconduct from a Class C felony to a Class B felony would increase.

The legislation would result in additional prison terms for prison and jail wardens who sexually assault inmates or engage in other sexual misconduct as part of their job, he said.

Padden said he drafted the bill in response to KING 5’s coverage of how a decades-old decision by the Washington Legislature allowed a sex offender who worked as a prison warden in Forks to receive a light prison sentence for his crime against multiple inmates receive.

“After looking at everything, I’ve come to the conclusion that people should be held more accountable,” said Padden, the senior member of the Senate Legal and Judiciary Committee. “This should be treated more seriously.”

John Gray, the former Washington Correctional Officer at the center of the multi-part KING 5 series, sexually assaulted four women who were inmates at Forks Prison in 2019. A Clallam County judge sentenced him to 20 months in prison last year. He was released early – in March this year – after serving 13 months of his sentence.

“It seems like he got off pretty easy,” Padden said.

The length of Gray’s prison sentence was determined by a decades-old decision by the Washington State Legislature to provide lighter sentences for sexual assault cases involving correctional officers than for the most serious rape cases involving civilian offenders.

TIED TOGETHER: Forks falls short in investigating allegations that a prison guard sexually molested an inmate

TIED TOGETHER: The Clallam County Correctional Officer kept his job for decades despite violations

In Washington, penalties for adult crimes are determined by a system that takes into account the “severity” of the offense and the offender’s criminal record. Judges rate defendants by looking at their histories – they assign higher scores to offenders with previous convictions. Then they consult a grid of penalty margins calculated based on these two factors.

When the legislature voted unanimously to pass the “Sexual Misconduct in Custody” bill in 1999, they made the crime a Class C felony and assigned it a severity level of five — the same level as the crime of rape third Degree, but six grades lower than what they attributed to second-degree rape.

For first-time offenders, second-degree rape could result in six-and-a-half to eight-and-a-half prison sentences — compared to six to 12 months in prison for a sexual misconduct case in prison.

Padden said his bill, as it is now drafted, would raise the seriousness of “sexual misconduct in custody” two notches higher than it currently is.

Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond), chair of the Senate Legal and Judiciary Committee, also vowed to take action. Dhingra, who is running for re-election in November, said she will “reconsider” Washington’s sexual misconduct law with peers and stakeholders this year.

“Our understanding of consent, our understanding of power dynamics have all changed,” she said. “A lot of people really complain that our laws aren’t keeping up with society, and that’s true.”

Dhingra said she plans to consider changes that explain the power imbalance that exists in such cases.

“When someone is in a position of power, they need to be held at a higher level,” she said. “That’s why we need changes in our penal code.”

CLOCK: The investigation into the allegation of sexual harassment in Forks prison failed

https://www.king5.com/article/news/investigations/harsher-penalties-jail-guards-sexually-abuse-inmates/281-c83fba47-ae2c-4991-a78c-fa1710834fa1 Washington senator proposes harsher penalties for jail guards who sexually abuse inmates

Alley Einstein

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