LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - A federal civil rights lawsuit has been filed against the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC) and a former chaplain who's now imprisoned. The suit was filed Thursday on behalf of an inmate at the McPherson Unit in Newport.
The LAUX LAW GROUP filed the complaint on behalf of Carolyn Arnett, claiming that she was a victim of sexual and physical assaults for years committed by disgraced McPherson chaplain, Kenneth Dewitt.
In July 2016, Dewitt pleaded guilty to Second Degree Sexual Abuse in relation to his assaults of Arnett and two other inmates. He is now serving his prison term. Arnett’s lawsuit alleges serious civil rights violations stemming from the abuse she suffered at the hands of Dewitt.
The complaint–which names current ADC Director, Wendy Kelley, as a co-defendant–also alleges rampant institutional failures, as well as a culture of sexual and physical abuse at McPherson which, despite clear notice to those in positions of authority within the ADC, was allowed to persist for many years.
Specifically, Arnett alleges that the ADC, through high-ranking officials, was aware of a pattern of pervasive sexual misconduct at McPherson as early as 2002 when the Department of Justice (DOJ) conducted a federal civil rights investigation at the facility. In 2003, the DOJ found the ADC acted with deliberate indifference to inmate safety by failing to supervise employees and perpetuating sexual misconduct. The DOJ found that McPherson performed “ineffective and unprofessional” and “substandard” investigations of sexual misconduct, which, among other things, created “an atmosphere conducive to misconduct and abuse.”
In 2003, in order to avoid litigation, the ADC agreed to implement the policy changes recommended by the DOJ. The complaint states "And yet, these changes were obviously not implemented, as the pervasive culture of sexual abuse at McPherson continued unabated for many years, causing injuries to Ms. Arnett, and prompting a second DOJ investigation of the facility which reached the same conclusions in June 2015 that the DOJ had reached over ten years prior! This failure has needlessly caused significant injuries and harm to McPherson inmates."
Arnett was 22-years-old in 1997 when she was convicted as an accomplice in a homicide and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The lawsuit says her case raises larger societal questions about the purpose and goals of life sentences for non-violent inmates under Arnett’s circumstances, especially ones who have excelled in prison programs, and present an extremely low recidivism risk.
We reached out to ADC for a comment on the lawsuit and they referred us to the Attorney General's Office.
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