A corrections officer who works at the D.C. Jail has sued the District of Columbia, as well as four supervisors and a co-worker at the D.C. Department of Corrections, alleging that he was subjected to a hostile work environment and discriminated against because of his sexual orientation, and then retaliated against after he complained about his mistreatment on the job.
Sgt. Deon Jones, a 24-year veteran of the D.C. Department of Corrections, says he faced constant harassment from co-workers and some of the inmates incarcerated at D.C. Jail, including being targeted by homophobic slurs and other obscenities, facing threats of violence, and being falsely accused by his co-workers of smuggling drugs into the jail and engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior with inmates, simply because of his sexual orientation.
Jones says he was frequently called a “sissy” a “d*ck eater,” a “f****t,” and “f****t mess” by co-workers, with one of them stating aloud that she doesn’t like “f****ts or sissies,” while other correctional officer cheered and applauded. That correctional officer then told other officers about Jones’s sexual orientation and said she “hate[s] working with f****ts.” Another officer threatened to have her husband come to work and “f*** [Jones] up” because of his sexual orientation. Still other officers would make comments or whisper anti-gay slurs over the radio, which Jones and other officers — as well as supervisors — would hear on their walkie-talkies.
Additionally, several inmates exposed themselves to him and called him anti-gay slurs. When Jones would call for back-up to help when he was transporting or interacting with inmates, co-workers and supervisors would ignore his requests for assistance — actions that could have potentially left him maimed or even cost him his life. In one instance, an inmate threatened to sexually assault Jones and “cut his throat.”
Despite all these incidents, Jones alleges, his supervisors did nothing to resolve the situation, either ignoring his complaints or, in some cases, encouraging fellow correctional officers to continue their abuse and harassment against Jones. For instance, Jones alleges that one co-worker — who is not a defendant in the case — who held a prominent position in the DOC officers’ union, reportedly told Jones that if they were in his home country of Nigeria, gay officers like Jones would be “beheaded for being faggots.” That co-worker allegedly encouraged other officers to use gay slurs against Jones in order to undermine his authority and ridicule him.
Jones also alleges that DOC supervisors were not only indifferent to the abuse he received, but would deliberately give him dangerous assignments in order to retaliate against him for complaining. In one instance, in spring 2020, Jones requested telework or administrative duties in order to accommodate underlying medical conditions that placed him at higher risk of severe illness or death if he contracted COVID-19. Instead, DOC assigned him to a unit with detainees who had all tested positive for the virus.
He also says that, in addition to filing complaints according to DOC procedures, he even reached out to DOC Director Quincy Booth and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to explain what was going on at the jail. But nothing was even done to stop the harassment, reform the “pervasive anti-gay culture” within the D.C. Jail, or protect Jones, including transferring or reassigning him in order to avoid contact with his harassers.
As a result of the abuse he endured on the job, Jones was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder, leading him to experience more than 15 panic attacks in early 2021 alone.
“I have been tormented and abused so badly, my life has changed. The discrimination and hostile work environment I faced has been devastating. I have suffered depression, PTSD and anxiety attacks. In spite of it all, I continue to do my job and lift my head up,” Jones said in a statement. “I have faced abuse from every direction: managers, co-workers, inmates. I have feared for my safety and cried out for help to the Director and Mayor but nothing was ever done. I’ve been threatened and bullied and received so much harsh treatment. All of this, because I’m gay.”
In his lawsuit, filed in D.C. Superior court on Wednesday, Jones and his lawyers, from the ACLU of the District of Columbia and WilmerHale LLP, allege that his co-workers and supervisors’ actions (or failure to act) violated his rights under the D.C. Human Rights Act by discriminating against him based on his sexual orientation and disability, subjecting him to a hostile work environment, unlawfully retaliating against him, as well as other claims, including negligence in supervising and failing to discipline the officers engaging in the harassment. The lawsuit seeks damages in an amount to be determined by a jury, and a court order prohibiting DOC officials from continuing to engage in such conduct.
Jones’s lawsuit comes on the heels of another lawsuit filed by Sunday Hinton, a transgender inmate at the D.C. Jail, who is challenging DOC’s policy of placing transgender individuals in solitary confinement upon their intake, and, prior to a last-minute policy change introduced after the lawsuit was filed, having placed trans individuals in cells based on their assigned sex at birth — putting them at risk of assault.
“I do think there is a culture within DC DOC that is that is hostile toward LGBTQ people, that is suspicious of people who don’t conform to certain traditional notions of of gender and sex, and that is manifest in hostility both toward staff members like Sergeant Jones and toward residents like like the transgender woman who we represent, who was held for two weeks on a man’s unit, and others in her same situation who were put in danger in that in that way,” Scott Michelman, the legal director of the ACLU of the District of Columbia, told Metro Weekly in an interview.
When asked what contributes to or causes that level of anti-LGBTQ hostility, Jones said it’s just a common part of the culture in a correctional setting.
“It’s in the culture. It’s an old boys’ club in police, fire, and corrections, that practices hatred towards gay people in general. And if you stand up and advocate for your rights, as I have been doing, they will punish you harshly, they will continue to retaliate against you,” he told Metro Weekly.
He also noted that some of the correctional officers with the most hostile attitudes towards LGBTQ individuals are of African origin, pointing to the officer who suggested he be beheaded as an example. Jones says those cultural attitudes may lead some within the ranks of DOC to believe Jones’s homosexuality disqualifies him from being a good officer.
“Being gay is a crime and a punishable offense in their culture, so they think that me being gay is an insult, and so they look at me in demeaning ways and say nasty things and blatantly disrespect me,” he said.
“What’s important to understand is that responsibility for the hostile environment rests with Sergeant Jones’s employer, as personified by the individual supervisors and leaders all the way up to the deputy warden, the warden, the [DOC] director and the mayor, who consistently ignored and disregarded his complaints, condoned abusive behavior by staff and residents, and, in fact, condoned or engaged in additional acts of retaliation in response to Sergeant Jones complaining,” Michelman said.
“As an employer, as an entity, the District of Columbia, had a duty to respond to the abuse that Sergeant Jones suffered and to take corrective action, including either either transferring Sergeant Jones or disciplining the perpetrators or otherwise ensuring that it halted,” he added. “And I think that speaks to a toxic culture within DOC, from top to bottom, that is characterized by indifference to the suffering of both residents and staff.”
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