A civil lawsuit alleges a year of sexual abuse by a correctional officer against a juvenile inmate at Red Wing's correctional facility, as well as a lack of employee training at the facility and inaction by support staff.
The unnamed plaintiff seeks a jury trial for punitive damages and damages for mental anguish after sustaining months of sexual abuse, according to the lawsuit filed May 31 in Ramsey County by Joshua Rissman with Minneapolis-based Gustafson Gluek law firm.
The lawsuit alleges that Sara Louise Hanson sexually abused an inmate at Minnesota Correctional Facility-Red Wing. The lawsuit only represents one inmate, but alleges that Hanson was cited on more than one occasion for "'boundary issues'" with multiple inmates.
Hanson allegedly "groomed" the inmate, referred to as "Doe," between 2016-2017 to "reduce the victim's inhibitions with the intent to be sexually abusive and to manipulate the victim into becoming a cooperating participant, thereby reducing the risk of disclosure," the lawsuit states.
Hanson was a correctional officer in Red Wing from September 2015 to April 2017, then was a teaching assistant from April to November 2017.
The Department of Corrections, the Red Wing correctional facility, warden, associate warden and other employees of the facility are named in the lawsuit alongside Hanson.
According to the lawsuit:
Hanson gave various food items, an inordinate amount of "game bucks" - which allow inmates time to play video games - and printed song lyrics to gain Doe's trust.
The first instance of abuse occurred when Hanson gave Doe a caramel, asking him to feed it to her. The two were positioned in a way that cameras wouldn't be able to see them. The occasions continued, resulting in physical touching in violation of the Department of Corrections Sexual Abuse/Harassment Prevention, Reporting and Response Policy.
When Hanson transitioned to a teaching role, Hanson and Doe would meet in her office to do school work.
Hanson would position Doe in the corner of the room, where the camera couldn't see them, and kiss and inappropriately touch each other on more than 10 different occasions.
Hanson was ordered to go through various trainings throughout her time at the Red Wing Correctional Facility, according to the lawsuit.
In June 2016, a lieutenant at the facility ordered Hanson to attend a boundary training after she shared potato chips with Doe. The civil case states that Hanson never attended the training, nor was there any supervisory follow-up by the same lieutenant that assigned the training.
On March 6, 2017, one lieutenant advised Hanson not to interact with Doe. In a memorandum, the lieutenant wrote, "Doe is not above setting a staff member up, and I don't want to see [Defendant Hanson's] career negatively impacted by an investigation that would follow should Doe accuse her of crossing boundaries." That same lieutenant never followed up on Hanson's efforts to avoid contact with Doe, the lawsuit states.
Doe was disciplined and moved to a more secure dormitory in June 2016, three days prior to the boundary training that Hanson was ordered to attend, after it was observed that Doe had made "sexual gestures towards Defendant Hanson." The only action taken was discipline toward Doe, none toward Hanson.
Court documents show numerous points where Hanson was questioned by correctional facility officials from 2016-2017, with little correction and, in fact, blaming Doe for the perceived relationship. In June 2017, an investigation into misconduct began but there was no ceased contact between the two.
Hanson was told to stop interacting with Doe in September 2017. However, Doe attempted to send "a kite" with a message stating that he wanted to speak with Hanson two months later.
The kite was confiscated by staff, resulting in the warden asking investigators to speak with Doe.
He said Hanson had sexually abused him, resulting in investigators interviewing Hanson weeks after the kite was confiscated. Hanson was placed on investigatory leave and the facility activated the Sexual Assault Response Team.
The complaint states the facility completed its investigation in January 2018, finding substantial evidence that Hanson sexually abused Doe.
A Department of Corrections data request showed that Hanson was terminated from her position on Feb. 23 for violations of multiple Department of Corrections policies.
There hasn't been any criminal charges filed against any of the parties involved in the civil lawsuit. However, the Goodhue County Attorney's Office confirmed to the Republican Eagle that prosecutors have had the investigation since its conclusion in March 2018 and it is under review.
Rissman said the reason why the civil lawsuit was filed in Ramsey County is the proximity of the Department of Corrections headquarters. Rissman said it is possible the lawsuit will be moved from Ramsey County to Goodhue County.
Editor's note: Joshua Rissman said it was a possibility the case could be moved from Ramsey County to Goodhue County. A earlier version of this story mischaracterized it as a “strong” possibility.