A lesbian inmate who was allegedly raped and impregnated by a Tennessee guard has filed a million-dollar civil rights lawsuit against him.
Jessica Fowler, 31, was booked into Moore County Jail in September 2016 on a probation violation. Five months later, corrections officer Caleb Shane Hopkins began coercing her into sex with him, the federal lawsuit claims.
Hopkins continued to sexually assault her, Fowler claims, until she discovered she was pregnant in May 2017 and informed a jail sergeant.
According to the complaint, Fowler “is a lesbian and not attracted to men, including Defendant Hopkins.” Her attorney says that her sexual orientation adds weight to the allegations against Hopkins, showing their meetings weren’t consensual.
“To me, this shows this is not something she would have sought out,” Ben Raybin, an attorney for Fowler, told The Daily Beast.
“There’s always those questions of victim-blaming and second-guessing,” Rabyn added. “That really, to me, should remove any question about that.”
Attorneys representing Hopkins and Moore County didn’t return messages seeking comment.
Hopkins, 30, is accused of giving Fowler cigarettes and prescription drugs to obtain her silence over the alleged assaults. The officer also allegedly warned her not to tell anyone what happened and said no one would believe her.
The “coercive atmosphere and power imbalance” led to Hopkins repeatedly sexually assaulting Fowler, the complaint alleges. Fowler says she felt she couldn’t refuse Hopkins’ requests because of his power and authority over her.
In November, Hopkins pled guilty to felony charges including six counts of sexual contact with an inmate by a law enforcement officer, and two counts of official misconduct. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Feb. 23, the lawsuit says.
Raybin told NewsChannel 5 that Fowler “wants people to know what has happened to her and wants to make other women feel empowered that they can speak out, too.”
Hopkins is listed on the Tennessee Sex Offender Registry, state records show. Under offenses, the listing says “sexual contact with inmates.”
The former corrections officer was indicted in June of last year, following a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe.
Hopkins carried out the alleged assaults by following the same pattern: cornering Fowler while she was alone in the jail’s library at night, the complaint says.
The guard started at Moore County’s jail in Lynchburg in early 2017, but hadn’t completed his required training, court papers allege.
Around the same time, Fowler achieved “trustee” status because of her good behavior. This gave her additional freedoms, including a job washing clothes and jail credits to reduce her sentence, the lawsuit says.
Yet after she reported the alleged rapes, she was transferred to a state prison and lost her jail credits—leading to a longer sentence.
The officer first assaulted Fowler one night in February, when she was the only inmate working the laundry shift, the complaint claims. At the time, she waited in the library across the hall for the machines to finish the loads.
Hopkins was allegedly one of two guards working that night. The library doesn’t have surveillance, but one or more hallway cameras would have captured someone entering or leaving the room, the complaint states.
Still, Hopkins had no reason to be in the library, court papers allege. He is accused of approaching Fowler from behind and putting his hands down her shirt to grope her. Then he allegedly asked her “suck my ding dong.”
According to the suit, Hopkins coerced Fowler into oral sex in the library on several other occasions. Fowler told him she didn’t want to engage in the activity and that it was physically uncomfortable for her, the complaint alleges.
Hopkins, who was married, then demanded vaginal sex from Fowler and ordered her to “bend over,” the lawsuit claims. When Fowler requested the deputy use a condom, he allegedly refused and said “married men don’t buy condoms.”
Fowler “felt coerced by Defendant Hopkin’s authority over her into complying to avoid retribution and retaliation,” court papers state.
The rogue deputy continued to force Fowler to have nonconsensual and unprotected sex four times over a period of a few weeks, the lawsuit claims.
The alleged rapes led to Fowler becoming pregnant in April or May of 2017.
On May 13, a sheriff’s department sergeant asked Fowler, who became depressed after the string of alleged sexual assaults, what was going on after he sensed a change in her emotional state, court documents state.
Fowler then told the sergeant about the repeated sexual abuse she experienced.
As a result of reporting the alleged rapes, Fowler was transferred from the county jail to a state prison. Her sentence was increased, as she was no longer eligible for the jail credits she had accumulated, the lawsuit says.
Fowler’s sentence would have expired in July 2017 if she hadn’t been transferred to the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville, the complaint states. Instead, Fowler remained incarcerated and “was compelled to remain pregnant in prison,” where she delivered the baby prematurely in December.
It’s unclear what, if any, family planning services the county offered to Fowler. Moore County Sheriff Mark Logan didn’t return messages left by The Daily Beast, and the jail’s administrator, Kay Solomon, declined to comment.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the state department of corrections said the agency, which only oversees state prisons, has “medical staff review all ob/gyn options with each pregnant inmate so that the woman can make the choice appropriate for her life.”
Fowler will remain in prison until her sentence expires in April. (Fowler pled guilty to aggravated statutory rape in February 2016 and was sentenced to three years of supervised probation, court papers show. It’s unclear how she violated her probation.)
She has post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of allegedly being raped and impregnated by Hopkins—and having to deliver a baby while incarcerated, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Nashville, is against both Moore County and Hopkins in his individual and official capacities.
Hopkins and Moore County violated Fowler’s civil rights, including her right “not to be subjected to sexual abuse and cruel and unusual punishment as guaranteed by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments,” the complaint alleges.
According to the suit, prison officials should have been aware of the risks of leaving a male corrections officer alone with a female inmate—especially on multiple occasions and in an area without surveillance cameras.
When most of the rapes took place, the lawsuit alleges, only one other corrections officer besides Hopkins was on duty. And on at least one occasion, Hopkins was allegedly the only guard on duty at the jail.
“This abuse has completely changed Jessica’s life and devastated her,” Raybin told The Daily Beast. He added that Fowler chose “the silver lining of having a child that she thought she would never have.”
“At the same time, the PTSD and continuing trauma she suffers from having gone through this is not something I’m sure she’ll ever get over,” Raybin said.
Fowler’s mother, Sharon, told The Daily Beast that her daughter is upset and struggling with being in prison, away from her newborn baby.
“This is her first child, and I hate the circumstance and that she had to go through it by herself,” Sharon Fowler said.