Washington Town To Pay $1 Million to Family of Woman Who Died by Suicide in Jail After Being Harassed by Guard
The small town of Forks, Washington, will pay $1 million to settle a lawsuit, first reported by Reason last year, filed by the family of a young Native American woman who committed suicide in jail after being harassed by a guard with a long history of misconduct complaints.
That guard, John Gray, would later be convicted of sexually assaulting four other incarcerated women. But when Kimberly Bender—a 23-year-old Quileute tribal member struggling with drug addiction and depression—tried to report Gray’s misconduct, the Forks jail determined her complaint was “unsubstantiated.”
Bender was in and out of the Forks jail between July and December of 2019. While she was incarcerated there Gray began harassing her, according to the lawsuit. He allegedly tormented Bender at night, leering at her, making “vile” comments, and frequently waking her up.
Bender, “struggling with heroin withdrawal, was unable to sleep, rest, or relax because of Defendant Gray,” the lawsuit said. “In the middle of the night, when Kimberly tried to sleep, Defendant Gray perched himself in the doorway of her jail cell, preying over her and sexually tormenting her. Kimberly felt terrified for her safety at all times and, eventually, of no worth.”
On November 16, Bender attempted suicide by slicing one of her forearms with a razor. She reported Gray’s harassment while in the hospital, and again when she was returned to jail.
On December 4, 2019, Bender hanged herself in her cell. Her family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit last October, arguing that the city of Forks negligence and indifference violated Bender’s constitutional rights and federal standards to prevent prison rapes.
“Kimberly’s life mattered,” Bender’s lawyers, Gabe Galanda and Ryan Dreveskracht, says in a statement to Reason. “Like many, she suffered affliction and addicti
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