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Barrett, who was one of a three-judge panel, was not ruling on the $6.7 million jury award itself, but rather whether a Wisconsin county was liable to pay the damages.
The judges ruled in favor of the county because they found that the guard’s actions were outside of his job duties and training.
In a similar case, Barrett ruled with the majority that a different Wisconsin county was responsible for damages for failure to supervise and train a guard who was convicted of sexually assaulting inmates.
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s record on the sentencing of sex offenders became the target of Republican criticism during her U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings late March.
In light of that, a Facebook post said Republicans should be reminded of an old ruling by Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who was confirmed to the Supreme Court in 2020 during the Trump administration.
"Don’t EVER let Republicans who are attacking Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson forget this…," began a March 24 Facebook post. "Amy Coney Barrett overturned a $6.7M verdict after a prison guard repeatedly raped a 19-year-old inmate who was 8 months pregnant. 4 days after she gave birth, the guard demanded oral sex. Amy Coney Barrett reversed the lower court’s decision to award the victim money."
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
The post refers to a 2018 ruling by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Coney Barrett served on that court at the time, before becoming a Supreme Court justice.
But the post leaves out some key context. Barrett, who was one of a three-judge panel, was not ruling on the $6.7 million jury award itself, but rather whether a Wisconsin county was liable to pay the damages. The award itself was not overturned, as the Facebook post implies, but the panel’s decision likely means the plaintiff will never see the money.
Xavier Thicklen, a prison guard at the Milwaukee County Jail, was charged in 2014 with five counts of second degree sexual assault of a pregnant 19-year-old inmate. He denied those allegations and eventually pleaded guilty in 2014 to a lesser charge of misconduct in office, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
The woman who accused Thicklen won a civil lawsuit against the guard and Milwaukee County in the matter and in 2017 was awarded $6.7 million in damages, to be paid by the county under Wisconsin’s indemnification law, according to various news reports.
Milwaukee County appealed the verdict and the case was heard by Barrett’s court in Chicago. The three-judge panel unanimously ruled that the county was not liable for the damages.
Under Wisconsin’s indemnification law, local governments are required to cover damages incurred while employees are acting within the scope of their jobs. But the court found the guard’s alleged actions were outside of his job duties and contrary to his training by the jail, so the law didn’t apply.
The judgment against Thicklen, who was not party to the appeal, still stands, though the court seemed to acknowledge the plaintiff would likely not collect the award.
"We have sympathy," for the plaintiff, the judges wrote, "who loses perhaps her best chance to collect the judgment." But Wisconsin law "does not make public employers absolute insurers against all wrongs," the decision said.
In a similar case before the appeals court in 2020, Barrett sided with the majority, finding that a different Wisconsin county, Polk, was responsible for damages because the jail didn’t properly supervise or train a guard convicted of rape.
A Facebook post claims that Barrett, while serving on an appeals court, reversed a decision to award $6.7 million in damages to a pregnant inmate raped by a jail guard in Wisconsin.
The claim leaves out the context that Barrett didn’t make the decision alone; it was the unanimous decision of a three-judge panel.
Also, the court was only ruling on whether Milwaukee County was liable to pay the damages, not the award amount itself. The court ruled the county was not responsible under Wisconsin’s indemnification law because the guard acted outside of his job duties and his training.
The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details. We rate it Half True.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Sex assault charges dropped against former jail guard," Nov. 26, 2014
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Federal appeals court reverses jury award of $6.7 million to woman raped in Milwaukee jail," Sept. 17, 2018
The Independent, "Amy Coney Barrett attacked for ‘cruelty’ over role in overturning prison inmate rape damages," Oct. 17, 2020
Justia, "Shonda Martin v. Milwaukee County, No. 17-3216 (7th Cir. 2018)," Sept. 14, 2018
Courthouse News Service, "Full Seventh Circuit Finds Wisconsin County Liable in Prison Rape Case," May 15, 2020
Wisconsin State Legislature, "895.46: State and political subdivisions thereof to pay judgments taken against officers"
The Washington Post, "Jury awards $6.7 million to woman alleging repeated rapes by guard in Sheriff David Clarke’s Milwaukee County Jail," June 8, 2017
The Associated Press, "Former Milwaukee Inmate Awarded $6.7M for Alleged Rape," June 7, 2017
Wisconsin Justice Initiative, "Appeals Court reverses $6.7 million jail rape verdict," Sept. 15, 2018
Prison Legal News, "Seventh Circuit Reverses $6.7 Million Indemnification Award for Milwaukee Jail Rape," Feb. 5, 2019
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