Breaking News
More () »

Washington Senate committee considers harsher penalties for sexually abusive jail guards

Corrections officers who sexually abuse inmates would face additional prison time under a bill that's making its way through the state legislature.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Members of the state Senate Law & Justice Committee heard testimony Monday in support of a bill inspired by a KING 5 investigation about a Clallam County jail guard who served just over a year in prison after sexually assaulting four women.

Five people publicly urged lawmakers to support Senate Bill 5033, legislation that would lead to more prison time for corrections officers who sexually abuse inmates. The bill, which has garnered bipartisan sponsorship, proposes to increase the crime of first-degree custodial sexual misconduct from a Class C felony to a Class B felony.

Four others also pledged support of the bill, but they did not testify publicly. No one shared opposition to the legislation during the hearing.

Michele Devlin, Clallam County chief criminal deputy prosecutor, was the first to testify in support of the bill. She explained to lawmakers that she believes in the bill because it recognizes law enforcement should be held to a higher standard than an ordinary person. 

“This bill acknowledges the disproportionate power dynamic between an inmate and a corrections officer. It also acknowledges the trauma experienced by survivors of sexual assault, and we know that this trauma is a cascading event of terror,” she said, speaking to lawmakers remotely.

Devlin prosecuted the 2020 case against former Forks jail guard John Gray — the man at the center of a multi-part KING 5 investigation. Gray, who was convicted in 2021 of two felony and two misdemeanor counts of custodial sexual misconduct, served 13 months of his 20-month sentence.

“He sexually assaulted several women. He exploited their vulnerabilities by using his power and authority over them,” Devlin said. “This proposed change in the legislation – increasing the severity level – will fix some of these injustices.”

RELATED: Why a Washington corrections officer got 20 months in prison for sexually assaulting four women

Lawmakers also heard pleas from the mother of Kimberly Bender, a 23-year-old Quileute woman who died by suicide in her Forks jail cell in 2019 after reporting to city officials that Gray sexually harassed her.

“It saddens me to no end that before my daughter took her own life, nobody told her they believed her,” Bender’s mother, Dawn Reid, said to lawmakers during her remote testimony. “‘I only can imagine how alone, scared and exhausted she must have felt.”

Reid asked Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, the bill’s lead sponsor, to name the legislation “Kimberly’s law” in memory of her daughter.

“This bill needs to be passed to deter the next John Gray from taking advantage of women in the care of custody or jail or prison,” Reid said. “This would have helped me further realize that Kimberly’s suffering was not in vain.”

Reid’s attorney, Gabe Galanda, also provided testimony, along with Larry Shannon of the Washington State Association of Justice and Quilcene resident Eric Pratt.

Senate committee members are expected to hold a vote in executive session on Feb. 2 to decide how to proceed with the bill.

Before You Leave, Check This Out