A former inmate who claims she was sexually assaulted over 70 times by former McPherson Womens’ Unit chaplain Kenneth L. Dewitt has filed a federal lawsuit against Dewitt, several staff members at the prison, and officials with the Arkansas Department of Corrections, including former director Ray Hobbs.
McPherson Unit in Newport is currently the focus of an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department for widespread allegations of sexual abuse and harassment of inmates. In December 2015, Dewitt was charged with 50 counts of third degree sexual assault, related to the abuse of three female inmates at McPherson, including Villarreal. He plead guilty to those charges in July of this year, but received only a 5 year sentence. He is currently incarcerated at Cummins Penitentiary in Grady, and will be eligible for parole in June 2017.
Leticia Villarreal, 42, a Mexican national who was deported to Mexico after her release from McPherson Unit in 2015, filed the lawsuit on Monday. According to the lawsuit, Villarreal — who was part of Dewitt’s faith-based Principles and Applications for Life, or PAL, program — was first summoned to Dewitt’s office for what he termed “special training” in January 2013. Villarreal has previously identified herself as one of Dewitt’s victims in the press.
WARNING: The following contains descriptions of sexual assault
Once inside the chaplain’s office, Villarreal claims, Dewitt allegedly told her that he wanted “to continue to help her, and then offered sexual training in order to be a true woman of God.” Villarreal said she was ordered to report to Dewitt’s office every Monday at 6 a.m., with Dewitt allegedly telling Villarreal that if she told anyone what went on, she wouldn’t be believed because “you are a criminal from Mexico [and] no one will help you here but me, so you better do as you are told.”
In the lawsuit, Villarreal said that her meetings with Dewitt always included a 30 minute lecture on “how to have a proper relationship with God,” before Dewitt would block a small window and rape her vaginally and orally. In the lawsuit, Villarreal alleges that Dewitt would say degrading things to her during the assaults, including calling her “my Mexican,” and “My Mexican whore.” According to Villarreal, this happened every Monday morning for 18 months, with Dewitt raping her orally when she was menstruating.
When Villarreal would tell Dewitt she didn’t want to meet him any more, the lawsuit says, Dewitt told her “It’s not your choice.” She claims he told her throughout the duration of the assaults that he was training her to be a woman of Godliness, and suggested the training would help her become a missionary in Mexico.
“Plaintiff fell into a deep depression because of the sexual assaults and frequently considered suicide,” the lawsuit says. “Plaintiff loathed Monday mornings, and the thought of having to go to Dewitt’s office disgusted her. The only thing that kept plaintiff from killing herself was the thought of seeing her children again.”
In the lawsuit, Villarreal claimed she was so frightened of Dewitt that she didn’t report the activity to ADC officials. After she pleaded with prison officials to transfer her out of the PAL program, she claims, Dewitt allegedly became enraged and told her she would never be allowed to leave the program. Villarreal said a prison guard who was friends with Dewitt threatened to pepper spray her and throw her into solitary confinement if she continued to cause problems for Dewitt, with Villarreal claiming the same guard later filed a false assault claim against her.
Villarreal says she was summoned to Dewitt’s office in September 2014, where Dewitt asked her to forgive him for the assaults before informing her that there was an investigation into his conduct. Villarreal claims Dewitt then asked her to lie to investigators. Dewitt resigned the same month. Villarreal claims in the lawsuit that she reported the assaults to the Chaplin who took over for Dewitt in December 2014, with the chaplain taking her to a guard captain to make a report about the abuse. Though she was told the State Police would investigate her claims, she said she was never contacted. Villarreal was released from prison in 2015 after serving 10 years, and immediately deported. According to a story about her case on Huffington Post, she currently lives in Coahulla, Mexico, where she works in an orphanage.
Villarreal’s lawsuit asks the court to provide damages for her pain and suffering, payment for ongoing medical bills, punitive damages, attorneys fees, and an order requiring the ADC to “improve its policies and practices.”
You can real Villarreal’s lawsuit here: