US pays $4.2 million to victims of prison guard’s protracted sexual abuse

Colin Akparanta, a former correctional officer at a federal prison in Manhattan, admitted in 2020 to sexually abusing seven female inmates. He pleaded guilty to abusing a person and depriving her of her citizenship and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

A price is still being paid – by his victims and the government.

In recent weeks, the government has quietly paid $3 million to settle a lawsuit by three women who say they were sexually abused by Akparanta while in custody at the Metropolitan Correctional Center. That settlement follows a $1.18 million government settlement last year in a lawsuit brought by three other women with similar sexual abuse allegations against Akparanta.

Akparanta, 46, was indicted in 2019, accused of using his official powers to sexually abuse female inmates at the now-closed MCC between 2012 and 2018.

In some cases, prosecutors say, he abused victims in “The Bubble,” a control room out of view of security cameras, and in other cases, he digitally hacked. the victims were kept in solitary confinement through a gap in the door of their cell. Other victims were abused in their own cells, the lawsuits said. Mr Akparanta told his victims not to tell anyone.

“He will take away their privileges; he’s going to change their cell duties, basically flaunting his powers and telling them that he’s close to the prison guards, nothing will happen,” said Jaehyun Oh, a lawyer for the prison. Jacob Fuchsberg Law Firm, who represented the plaintiffs in the $3. million settlement.

The payments are just the most recent setback to New York City’s federal lockout cases, which for years have held defendants, most of whom are awaiting trial, often in a number of cases. the nation’s highest-level prosecution. Conditions at the MCC deteriorated so much that the Department of Justice last August said it would close the prison, At least temporarily. The Bureau of Prisons website says no inmates are currently at the facility.

Deirdre von Dornum, the head of that county’s federal defense office, which represents most of the inmates at that prison, said moving hundreds of those inmates to Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center only exacerbated the situation. aggravate the already dire situation there. In the recent past, both Ghislaine Maxwell, convicted of helping disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein recruit and abuse minors, and singer R. Kelly, convicted of sexually abusing women, have complain before the court about their treatment and conditions there.

The MCC, a high security keyinternational terrorist organizations, gangs and drug dealers, including Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo.

It is perhaps most famous as the prison where Mr. Epstein was found dead in his cell in August 2019, after hanging himself while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. Two guards were later accused of failing to check on him as required the night before his death; instead, the guards were surfing the internet or taking a nap, prosecutors said.

In recent years, there have been other major settlements in lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by correctional officers at the MCC and its partner prison in Brooklyn. In 2020, the government agreed to pay $365,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a female inmate who prosecutors allege was raped by an officer in an MCC hallway with no video cameras, records say the court showed. The victim’s attorney, Robert A. Soloway, said the government also agreed to forgive much of the money the victim was forced to confiscate in her criminal case.

The officer, Rudell L. Clark Mullings, who was indicted by the US attorney’s office in Brooklyn, pleaded guilty to sexually abusing an inmate and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Two lawsuits settled on behalf of six women who say they were sexually abused by Mr Akparanta make it clear that his conduct was neither secret nor unique to the MCC and that he sexually assaulted at least At least 14 prisoners, two of whom filed complaints against him. However, he was still allowed to work shifts where he was the only officer on duty in the women’s unit, the suit said.

Amelia Green, partner at the law firm Neufeld, Scheck & Brustin, who represented the women in the $1.18 million settlement.

Oh, the attorney who handled the $3 million settlement, said it shows there is at least “a way to hold the government accountable – not just the individual who did it, as if they were just like like a bad apple falling far away. tree.”

“This can only be allowed to go on for so long and so often in such a controlled environment by the complicity of others, in my opinion,” Ms. Oh said.

The prison office and the US attorney’s office both declined to comment.

In Mr Akparanta’s case, federal prosecutors in Manhattan said he had digitally penetrated the victim’s vagina, causing pain in some cases and that he touched her breasts, buttocks and muscles their genitalia. He let a victim perform oral sex on him in her cell. In the case of another victim, he locked the door of a unit and escorted her to the bathroom, where he stroked her breasts and crotch, the government said.

Prosecutors said he also smuggled toiletries, makeup, food and other contraband that he gave to some of the victims. They said in some cases he asked victims for their contact information to contact them after they were released.

“Akparanta is a predator in uniform,” said Geoffrey S. Berman, a U.S. attorney in Manhattan at the time.

Akparanta’s attorney, Nicholas Kaizer, said last week that his client was a decorated correctional officer who protected inmates and staff.

“When he pleaded guilty, he admitted to having inappropriate relationships with certain inmates in exchange for gifts such as cigarettes, makeup and sundries with those inmates,” Kaizer said. “He is paying for his mistake through the loss of his freedom, his job and his pension.”

Carolyn Richardson, one of the plaintiffs sharing the $3 million settlement, is currently serving a sentence in another federal prison, in Florida.

She said in a statement passed through to her attorney that she never got over her fear of whether Mr Akparanta would enter her cell and sexually assault her. “Even now,” she wrote, “I still get confused when I see lights in the middle of the night and hear the sound of keys.”

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