A correctional officer has launched a federal lawsuit against the Texas prison system, claiming the department retaliated after she alleged sexual harassment at the hands of an high-ranking Allred Unit official.
The allegations stem from a single incident in 2016, when Major Johnathan Eastep allegedly pinned a sergeant against a fence at the north Texas prison and pressed himself against her, breathing down her neck.
“It felt like he was grinding up against her,” said her attorney, Louise Tausch. The incident was caught on camera, but a subsequent investigation found no evidence of a policy violation.
The legal claim comes weeks after the prison system told the Chronicle it had no releasable information regarding complaints or investigations into the the major at the center of the suit.
A Texas prison spokesman declined to offer comment, citing pending litigation.
This is not the first time the department has faced sexual harassment allegations in recent months. Late last year, the prison system agreed to a $250,000 settlement when another of Tausch’s clients filed a lawsuit accusing a lieutenant of raping her against a prison staircase.
And earlier this year, more than a dozen current and former employees laid out for the Chronicle a series of allegations of harassment, retaliation and gender discrimination in what some described as a long-standing issue dating back years.
“You think it’s the inmates you have to worry about,” said one former employee, who asked not to be identified, “but it’s actually the people you work with.”
The June 15, 2016 incident that sparked the latest case prompted the sergeant to file an internal complaint five days later. The initial investigator reviewed video footage and found the footage generally backed up the allegation, but that it didn’t rise to the point of a policy violation.
“After viewing the recording of the incident,” the investigator wrote, according to the lawsuit, “Respondent does step behind Complainant and place both [hands] on the fencing on each side of Complainant’s body and it appears Complainant is ‘blocked’ in by Respondent’s stance and body. Respondent appears to bend his knee moving his groin area toward Complainant’s buttocks.”
Ever since, according to the lawsuit, the sergeant has “suffered physically and mentally” because she came forward with the claims. She’s been losing hair and under severe stress, her lawyer said.
Though the major didn’t get in any trouble, according to the lawsuit he was allegedly put on probation for an unrelated issue and transferred to a different unit. Texas prison officials declined to confirm or shed any light on what happened, despite a records request from the Chronicle asking for “any releasable information/reports on sexual harassment complaints, disciplinary actions or investigations into allegations against/misbehavior by” the major.
After filing her complaint, the suit alleges, the sergeant quickly faced retaliation when, that July, another major started investigating her for a use-of-force incident.
The claim doesn’t ask for a specific dollar figure, but Tausch said she hopes to reach a resolution comparable to the $250,000 settlement in her previous case.
The department has not yet responded to the complaint and a prison union spokesman did not immediately offer comment. Eastep could not be reached for comment.