Two lawsuits filed
against local prisoner-transport firm
By Rob Johnson
From the nation's highways, where the
extradition vans of Nashville-based TransCor America ferry thousands of wanted
men and women, come graphic tales of alleged civil rights abuses committed by
the people in the driver's seats.
Two female detainees in Texas say they were
sexually assaulted during a
five-day odyssey by a driver previously
implicated in a New Mexico assault. In Colorado, a mother of four filed a
federal lawsuit alleging sexual assaults during a TransCor journey across the
West. A busload of
Wisconsin inmates sued in federal court alleging the group
endured a frigid winter trip to Oklahoma on a TransCor bus awash in human
State and local law enforcement agencies,
including the Tennessee
Department of Correction, have embraced private
extradition as a cost-saving alternative to sending its officers to retrieve
detainees from faraway jurisdictions. TransCor, the self-declared giant in the
extradition industry and a wholly owned subsidiary of the Corrections
Corporation of America, says it safely and routinely hauls 77,000 detainees
annually. The people moved by these companies range from stone-cold killers to
housewives accused of passing bad checks. Prisoners call the trips ''diesel
Regardless of the extradition firm, hundreds of
these trips pass routinely without incident. But in 1997, a Memphis-based
Federal Extradition Agency van exploded, and its six caged prisoners were
incinerated. In February, a federal jury in Nashville awarded $9.5 million to
one prisoner's daughter.
A plaintiff's attorney asserts that the
underlying facts in the burned FEA van incident are echoed in the TransCor
assault case now before a U.S. District Court in San Antonio,
''The parallels between the cases are eerily
similar,'' said San Antonio attorney Tim Maloney. ''The absolute and total
disregard for the prisoners' rights, welfare and safety. That the most important
thing is the bottom line. That it is nothing to transport these people for three
or four or five days. That they are absolutely and completely helpless and at
the mercy of these guards.''
The facts of the Texas case stretch from New
Mexico to Nashville. One of
the plaintiffs, a 39-year-old suspect in a
jewelry-store theft, says she was shackled inside a TransCor van in October
1999. During three or four days, while she was locked inside with its
shotgun-wielding agents, the lawsuit says, she was ''subjected to individual
acts of sexual assault perpetrated by two employees of defendant,
She says she was forced to perform sexual acts
and was penetrated with
fists and a gun barrel. She says she was subjected to
''screen tests'' when the drivers stomped on the brakes, hurtling her face
against the van's wire mesh security screens.
After she was delivered to the Houston jail,
Harris County officials were able to collect evidence that helped them build
sexual assault cases against TransCor agents Michael Jerome Edwards and David
Jackson has agreed to plead guilty to an
undisclosed charge, according to the Harris County district attorney's office.
Edwards is in jail awaiting trial.
Women file civil rights
A federal civil rights suit filed by the
woman and another female extradition passenger charges that TransCor did little
to protect female prisoners from its male agents after at least four allegations
of similar sexual assaults in the past five years. Those allegations include a
one-page statement that a female TransCor prisoner handed to a company official
during a stopover in Nashville. It described a New Mexico assault perpetrated by
the same agent, Edwards. Because it was delivered a month before the alleged
Texas assault, its existence could constitute a potentially damning corporate
oversight, plaintiff's attorneys say.
Company officials repeatedly told a New Mexico
investigator that they couldn't find the statement. When
the investigator arrived at TransCor's Nashville headquarters, she had a plan to
execute a search warrant, and she took a Davidson County district attorney
general's official with her. But before there was any search, a TransCor
attorney suddenly produced the long-sought document. He said it had been
It is now part of a continuing criminal investigation in New Mexico
and the civil litigation in San Antonio. ....
In Colorado, TransCor is the defendant in a
lawsuit filed by a married
woman of four who was picked up in Texas on a
welfare theft charge. The
all-male TransCor crew that delivered her back to
Colorado, the lawsuit
says, repeatedly assaulted her while she was wearing an
agent's shackles. ''When you are wearing my jewelry,'' he allegedly told her,
''you belong to me.''
In a Davidson County Circuit Court case, a Texas
state inmate charges that a TransCor driver raped and repeatedly sexually
assaulted her in a rest room. The 2-year-old case was moved from state court to
federal court and back again.
In Wisconsin, 39 prisoners have filed a federal
lawsuit protesting their transfer on a TransCor bus to a private Oklahoma
facility in frigid winter temperatures. They say their feet and legs were
splashed with waste from an overflowing toilet. They say they vomited on one
another because they were sickened by the smell. Dressed only in jumpsuits for
the 31-hour journey, the prisoners claim some arrived in Oklahoma with frostbite
Company officials say that because of the
ongoing litigation, they cannot comment on those allegations. ....
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