After Sexual Assault of Prisoner in Transport, Elizabeth Warren Demands Answers from PTS
Boston, MA– A recent report of sexual abuse of prisoners by transportation guards has led members of congress to demand answers from the prison transport company Prisoner Transport Services of America (PTS). Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is one of several congresspeople who sent a letter to the private company, reports WBUR.
The recent episode occurred when a prison inmate going by her last name "Smith" was being transported from California to Massachusetts. Warning: this story contains details about a sexual assault.
Smith, originally from Massachusetts, was picked up at a California rehab center where she was arrested for violating probation in her home state. Upon getting into the PTS prisoner transport van that was to take her back to Massachusetts, she was immediately subjected to sexual comments and physical touching by the other detainees, all men. She was put into a compartment at the front of the van called "the birdcage," through which the men would poke their fingers and touch her. Bathroom stops were rare, and the men urinated in bottles in the van.
On her 12th day in the van, she was sexually assaulted by one of the prison transport guards. At a stop in southern New Jersey, one of the guards, Officer Taylor, pulled her away from the group while she was still handcuffed and shackled at the ankles. He slipped his hand into her pants. Smith said: "It was just probably the most demeaning, degrading thing that's ever [been] done to me like that, in a situation where I really can't do anything about it. And so at that point I was just mentally beaten....I couldn’t fight an officer… because I was an inmate.”
As soon as Smith was returned to Middleton, Massachusetts, she immediately asked to speak with a female officer. Almost immediately, Smith was transported to the local hospital, given a rape kit, and granted an interview with a detective.
The guard is now facing charges in New Jersey for criminal sexual assault, and Smith has also filed a federal lawsuit against Jermaine Taylor and his employer, the Nashville-based Prisoner Transport Services of America.
This is not the first instance of abuse, sexual or physical, that has occurred on the watch of private prison transport companies. In February, Senator Elizabeth Warren and two other members of Congress sent a letter to PTS leadership asking questions about the safety of the detainees and statistics around deaths and abuse of inmates while under PTS supervision. PTS president Joel Brasfield did not answer with specifics on prisoner abuse, injury, or death. He said, "Transporting prisoners is an inherently difficult business."
The court case of Taylor vs. Smith was to go to trial in April, but a last-minute delay pushed the trial back to August. Taylor is pleading not guilty.