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A former correctional officer who was repeatedly raped by her supervisor at the Barry Telford Unit in New Boston, Texas, is asking a federal judge in Texarkana to help her collect the $250,000 settlement the Texas Department of Criminal Justice agreed to pay.

The woman filed a civil suit in December 2015 in the Texarkana Division of the Eastern District of Texas with the help of Texarkana lawyers Louise Tausch, Brandon Cogburn and Hailee Amox. A decision was made Oct. 18 to settle the case for $250,000—the maximum allowed from TDCJ. The woman could have received a greater judgment from a jury, but any award beyond $250,000 would have to come from a Texas State Comptroller fund set up for such federal actions that has been depleted, Tausch said in an interview last year.

More than three months have passed since the parties agreed to settle the case, but the state of Texas has failed to distribute the funds, according to a motion to enforce and assess interest on the unpaid settlement filed Wednesday. According to the motion, the state's own policy provides for settlements to be paid in six to eight weeks. It has been 14 weeks since a notice of settlement was filed.

"The attorney general's office had the authority to settle for the defendant and no further approval process should be necessary, certainly not one that requires over 3.5 months," the motion states.

The motion complains that lawyers for TDCJ have offered no clear idea of when the settlement will be paid other than to say they have never seen a distribution take longer than six months.

"With any other Defendant, settlement would be expected within thirty (30) days or less, and interest would be a factor to pressure remittance unless there was proof of some extenuating circumstances. In this case, it has been 3.5 months, with no reasons for the prolonged delay and no foreseeable deadline," the motion states.

The motion asks that U.S. District Judge Robert Schroeder III order payment of the settlement, tack interest onto the amount owed and order attorney fees be paid by the defense for the work involved in filing the motion to enforce the settlement.

A slow response by officials in the investigation of the sexual assault claims was a central issue in the woman's civil suit. According to TDCJ policy, the woman's claims should have been investigated in 10 days, but at least a year passed before the woman's former supervisor was found to have engaged in the assaultive conduct and fired.

He has never been charged with a crime.

Tausch said TDCJ did little to address the situation after the serious allegations were brought to the agency's attention in January 2013. Instead of putting Forte on leave or separating him from the plaintiff through work assignments to different areas of the prison, TDCJ responded by telling the woman and the supervisor to "act professionally and only talk about work," Tausch said.

In an earlier interview, Tausch said TDCJ blamed the lack of quick action on a shortage of manpower.

Overcome with anxiety and post-traumatic stress, the woman quit working at Telford in April 2013, about 12 months before the supervisor's official date of termination from TDCJ, documents show.

In addition to the $250,000 settlement, TDCJ has agreed not to oppose the woman if she files for worker's compensation.

Lawyers for TDCJ have not filed a response to the motion to enforce.

 

llarowe@texarkanagazette.com

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