Thursday, January 20, 2022

Federal lawsuits filed against regional jail after corrections officer convicted of sexually assaulting inmates

Henry Rhim (WYDaily/Courtesy Newport News Police Department)
Henry Rhim (WYDaily/Courtesy Newport News Police Department)

A woman has filed a $1.35 million civil lawsuit in federal court alleging her civil rights were violated when she was sexually assaulted by a corrections officer while an inmate at the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail.

Defendants named in the lawsuit include the jail authority, former Superintendent John Kuplinski, jail authority Vice Chairman J. Randall Wheeler and former corrections officer Henry Rhim.

The lawsuit, filed April 16, is the third filed in the United States General District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia stemming from several 2017 incidents in the jail’s laundry room involving Rhim.

Rhim, 65, was separately and criminally convicted in August 2018 of sexually assaulting two inmates while he was working at the jail — he was sentenced to 12 years in prison with all but eight months suspended in November.

All three women who filed the lawsuits allege Rhim sexually assaulted them in the laundry room. The women also testified during Rhim’s trial in 2018. He was convicted of assaulting two of them.

During the trial, the women described encounters with Rhim when Rhim approached them from behind and stuck one hand down the back of their pants and into their underwear. They also said he directed them to touch their genitals in front of him in a laundry closet.

RELATED STORY: ‘They’re in control’: Former corrections officer convicted of sexually assaulting 2 inmates at regional jail

Rhim retired in August 2017, he said during his trial. He was arrested Oct. 12, 2017.

The first lawsuit was filed in December 2018 and seeks more than $4.56 million in damages. The second was filed April 11 and also seeks more than $4.56 million. The third on April 16 seeks $1.35 million.

Each lawsuit says there were improper supervision methods and policies in place that did not protect female inmates.

The April 16 complaint reads: “Plaintiff has suffered, and will in the future suffer, great damages including physical injury; severe mental anguish, stress, embarrassment, humiliation, inconvenience, and pain and suffering, causing symptomatic reaction, including but not limited to: depression, nervousness, inability to sleep, severe and persistent nightmares, panic attacks, loss of self-esteem, and severe anxiety impacting Plaintiffs daily living activities; medical expenses; loss of enjoyment of life and other nonpecuniary injury.”

Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail (WYDaily/Andrew Harris)
Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail (WYDaily/Andrew Harris)

History

The lawsuit filed April 16 and other court records show other VPRJ corrections officers have been accused of sexually assaulting inmates in the past.

The Code of Virginia prohibits anyone in a position of authority from having carnal knowledge of an “inmate, parolee  probationer, detainee, or pretrial or posttrial offender.”

The April 16 lawsuit says there were at least three other incidents involving officers other than Rhim since 2004. Some incidents involved inappropriate touching, while one involved a rape, according to the complaint.

The rape that occurred in 2014 resulted in a settlement. Details of that settlement are not disclosed in public court records.

Avoiding future incidents

VPRJ Superintendent Tony Pham said he has put several additional measures in place to help prevent similar situations from occurring in the future.

Pham became superintendent after the incidents involving Rhim, he said.

Since then, he has worked to further separate male and female inmates by separating them during special programs such as Bible study — and also ensured male corrections officers do not supervise female inmates.

“We want to do our best to avoid putting female inmates in a position like that,” Pham said. “And we want to avoid putting our officers in those compromised positions, too.”

Female corrections officers are still able to supervise male inmates.

Pham has also increased the amount of camera supervision in the jail to help eliminate blind spots.

During Rhim’s trial in August 2018, the female inmates testified there were blind spots in the laundry room where camera surveillance did not have a complete visual of the room.

Lastly, Pham has made sure training for new corrections officers covers relationships between officers and inmates.

Pham declined to comment on the pending litigation.

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Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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