By STEVE E. SWENSON, Californian staff writer e-mail: email@example.com
Wednesday August 22, 2001, 09:35:57 AM Bakersfield Californian
A former Taft Prison Camp correctional officer recently acquitted of a misdemeanor charge of engaging in a sex act with an inmate is suing Wackenhut Corrections Corp. for civil rights violations and at least $270,000 in damages.
The suit was filed last week in U.S. District Court in Fresno on behalf of Tammy Isbell, 42, who was fired by the prison Jan. 4, 2000, after it was alleged she engaged in a sex act with inmate Baltazar Magana, 28, in a darkened conference room on Aug. 12, 1999.
A criminal trial in federal court on that issue ended March 23 with a jury finding her innocent.
Her criminal defense attorney, Richard Berman of Fresno, put on no defense witnesses and alleged that prison officials lost important defense evidence.
Prison officials contended Isbell was not assigned to Magana's section of the prison, but Isbell maintained the prison lost the orders that required her to be in that section.
Berman, contacted Tuesday at his Fresno law office, said Isbell "and her family were publicly humiliated by those false charges and the news reports about them.
"The fact that a jury found her innocent went a long way toward helping her regain her respect. However, the conduct of Wackenhut was so egregious that hopefully this lawsuit will provide significant monetary damages for the harm it caused this family."
Isbell has been married for 21 years.
Wackenhut officials said it was their policy not to comment on pending litigation.
Previous information released, however, was that prison correctional officers who fraternize with inmates are subject to dismissal. Those officers who engage in sexual contact are subject to criminal charges.
The federal lawsuit was filed Aug. 9 by Berman and attorney David Douglas Doyle of Fresno.
In September 1999, Isbell filed a lawsuit in Kern County Superior Court asking that the prison rehire her and give her back pay. She lost that suit.
The federal lawsuit alleges that the prison's attorney, William J. Murray, promised during a Superior Court hearing to reinstate Isbell with back pay if she was acquitted.
The suit alleges several causes of action, including labor code violations, breach of contract, lack of fair dealing and civil rights.
It asks for reimbursement of $70,000 in attorney fees, at least $100,000 for each of two causes of action, plus punitive damages and costs.