Warden ordered Iowa officer not to turn off movies

Updated at: 01/14/2013 11:37 AM
By RYAN J. FOLEY

(AP) IOWA CITY, Iowa - Attorneys defending Iowa prison officials against a female guard’s lawsuit acknowledge a warden ordered her to stop shutting off movies with sexual content viewed by inmates, but they deny her claims of retaliation and discrimination.

The Iowa Attorney General’s Office on Monday released its response to a lawsuit filed Nov. 30 by Kristine Sink, a correctional officer at the maximum-security Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison.

Sink’s lawsuit describes how she had complained since her hiring in 2003 about the practice of allowing a unit that included mentally-ill sex offenders and murderers to watch programs with graphic violence and sex. She says her superiors dismissed repeated complaints about the movies, which aroused inmates and made them hostile toward her. The lawsuit claims they retaliated against Sink for complaining and failed to protect her from inmates who threatened her when sexually-explicit movies were ultimately removed in 2011.

The state’s response, filed Thursday by Deputy Attorney General Jeff Thompson, denies Sink’s claims of sexual harassment, retaliation and gender discrimination. But it acknowledges she repeatedly complained about the types of movies shown to inmates during her employment and that Warden Nick Ludwick ordered her in September 2011 to "discontinue shutting off movies that have been screened and deemed appropriate for viewing."

Sink says the warden’s order came in response to her complaints about the showing of the Showtime series, "Californication," which includes sexual content. She says episodes of the show played multiple times a day for about three weeks in a common area where dozens of inmates could watch.

Sink says prison officials finally pulled the show after her "persistent badgering." But she says inmates were immediately allowed to watch "Delta Venus," an erotic movie that includes sexually graphic scenes. She says she complained to superiors and had them use a security camera to zoom in on the sexual content on the television but was warned not to turn the channel or shut off the TV.

Sink says she changed the channel anyway, arguing that unit rules give officers the discretion to control the television. Sink says she was put under investigation for insubordination and later discovered a disciplinary letter in her file, which has since been removed. During both "Californication" and "Delta Venus," inmates openly masturbated in front of Sink and made harassing comments, her lawsuit claims.

"To a sex offender that is a sex addict and a violent sexual predator, these movies bring back these behaviors that we’re trying to curb. And then I’m being subjected as the target because I’m the female on duty," Sink said in an interview last month.

The state’s response acknowledges that Ludwick, on Sept. 27, 2011, suspended all movies that were R-rated due to their sexual content from being shown. Sink says that action infuriated inmates, who responded by blaming her, calling her names and even making threats toward her life. The state admitted that Sink filed complaints in November 2011 about an inmate who repeatedly yelled threats at her through his cell.

Worried about her safety, Sink says that she sought a job without inmate contact for more than a year without success. The prison agreed that Sink should no longer escort inmates off the unit and offered her a job at a medium-security unit. Sink says she rejected the transfer because the unit wasn’t safer and inmates there were also angry they’d lost their sexually-explicit movies. Last month, shortly after she filed her lawsuit, prison officials transferred Sink to a desk job away from inmates.

Department of Corrections spokesman Fred Scaletta confirmed Sink’s change of assignment. He said it was due to a "non-discipline personnel matter" but that he could not elaborate.

Records show Sink had filed a formal complaint about violence in the workplace in 2007 after the showing of a movie that included a scene in which a woman was beaten, raped and murdered. The warden at the time, John Ault, responded by blaming Sink her for "putting yourself out there" by complaining and soon dismissed her complaint.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)