Jennifer Sullivan: Rare criminal trial focuses attention on "huge problem" of prison rape, The Seattle Times, November 14, 2006.
Tremayne Francis is a cellmate's worst nightmare.
Convicted in 1998 of raping two young men while working as a martial-arts instructor in Pierce County, Francis was sent to prison for nine years. But even behind the razor wire, Francis used extortion and violence to force fellow inmates to have sex with him and raped two men new to prison, according to prison records.
When confronted by prison staff, Francis, 34, claimed he had a multiple-personality disorder and denied the rapes, claiming the sex was consensual, records show. Though found guilty of both rapes in prison hearings, the worst punishment he endured was solitary confinement and victim-awareness classes — each time ending up back in the general prison population.
But Francis is facing a criminal trial this week in Snohomish County Superior Court for the 2005 rape of an inmate at the Monroe Correctional Complex, the first such prosecution since the state enacted a new federal policy aimed at reducing prison rape. Because of how unusual it is for prison rapes to become the focus of a criminal prosecution, the case has drawn the attention of the state Department of Corrections, as well as prosecutors and inmate-rights groups nationwide.
"We've never had a prisoner-on-prisoner sexual assault prosecuted in this county before. It just doesn't happen very often," said Matt Baldock, the Snohomish County deputy prosecutor who will try Francis. "I have not heard from anybody who has prosecuted a case like this before."
Baldock says he faces an uphill battle in trying to win a conviction against Francis. He's certain many jurors seated before him this week will wonder why they should even care what happens to prison inmates.
"Jurors see prison as a foreign land," Baldock said.
New law forces change
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 6,241 reports of prison sexual violence — 35 percent being inmate-on-inmate attacks — were filed nationally in 2005. There were 5,386 reports filed in 2004.
But prison officials and those who work for inmates' rights believe the number of attacks is much higher.
Katherine Hall-Martinez, co-executive director for Los Angeles-based Stop Prisoner Rape, said most cases go unreported. A common fear among inmates is that reporting rape, sexual abuse or other forms of misconduct will result in other inmates viewing them as "a snitch," she said.
In 2003, Congress enacted the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) in response to a 2001 Human Rights Watch study focusing on widespread sexual abuse in U.S. prisons. The law required each state to have its prisons standardize the process for detecting and reducing rapes, as well as come up with a standard way to punish rapists.
With federal grant money designated to fulfill the PREA requirements, the Washington state Department of Corrections (DOC) reassigned employees Tim Thrasher and Steve Baxter as sex-crimes investigators. Before PREA, each prison independently investigated sex crimes involving inmates.
This year, DOC has investigated 40 sex cases, compared with 26 last year. These cases involve allegations of sex between inmates or between inmates and staff. They also include inappropriate touching, threats of rape and consensual sex, Thrasher said.
In Washington, any sexual contact between inmates is forbidden.
Thrasher and Baxter were sent to the Monroe Correctional Complex in June 2005 after a 19-year-old Lynnwood man reported that Francis had raped him two nights in a row. The first rape occurred the very day he was transferred into Francis' cell.
Francis at first denied that he and the Lynnwood man had had sex, then told Thrasher it was consensual, according to a DOC investigation. The Lynnwood man told police and DOC investigators that Francis threatened to beat him if he didn't comply, according to court charging papers.
Francis also had been investigated by the DOC after a 2000 rape at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. Though the DOC found him guilty of infractions for both rapes and placed him in solitary confinement, it was only in the Monroe case that Snohomish County prosecutors brought criminal charges.
Because Francis was already in prison for second-degree rape, an additional conviction on the same charge would result in a life sentence under state law, Baldock said.
Francis' attorney couldn't be reached for comment.
Reports of Francis' sexually aggressive behavior in prison date as far back as early 2000, when an inmate at McNeil Island Corrections Center told prison staff Francis had threatened him by saying "either you'll be mine or you'll leave this island dead," according to the DOC. That summer, Francis was transferred to the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton, where investigators say he tried to force other inmates into sex. He was then transferred to Walla Walla, and the rape there was reported in October 2000.
"With these predatory patterns, Francis is at risk to re-offend when any opportunity presents itself," according to a DOC report. "His overall attitude and belief system has not presented any sign of remorse or compassion for those he victimizes."
Hall-Martinez, from the anti-prison-rape group, said corrections staff never should have let Francis live with other inmates when they knew he was a sexually violent offender.
"His record shows he's a predator," Hall-Martinez said. "Why was he put in general population in the first place?"
Fear of being a "snitch"
Though Stop Prisoner Rape has been around since 1980, it wasn't until after the passage of PREA that prison officials and politicians started taking more of an interest in protecting inmates from sexual attacks, Hall-Martinez said.
In Washington state, rape-awareness sessions are becoming common in prisons and jails. Posters asking inmates to call Thrasher and Baxter with tips about alleged sexual activity have been put up in inmate cafeterias, gyms and other heavily populated areas. Not many tips are left, Thrasher said.
"People don't want to report it. It's a huge problem," Hall-Martinez said. "Prisoners have seen what happens to snitches and they make a very rational calculation that they are endangering themselves at worst and at best they're going to lose privileges."
The Eastern Washington man who reported that Francis raped him in 2000 while they were at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla said he struggled with coming forward. During an interview earlier this year, he said he didn't want to be perceived as a snitch.
No inmate wants to be perceived as a snitch because it's a sign of weakness and is viewed as support for the criminal-justice system, the Eastern Washington man said. Snitches are often beaten or tormented by other inmates, he said.
Yet, "If I didn't say anything, I'd be this person's property," said the man, who is not being named because he's a rape victim.
"Between being a rat and a rapist, it's a tossup. Both are bad," he said.
Convicted of assault and possession of a firearm, the Eastern Washington man, then 18, was new to prison when he met Francis. He said he was struggling to fit in among the different cliques and Francis offered to protect him.
When alone inside Francis' cell, Francis ordered the Eastern Washington man to take off his clothes. When he refused, he said Francis slapped him and threatened to kill his family, according to the man's testimony during an April preliminary hearing for the current Snohomish County case. The man was then raped.
"I've been the criminal, done the crimes and made people my victim," the Eastern Washington man said. "I've never put myself in the shoes of a victim. I now feel totally like a victim and I have a sense of helplessness."
Now 25, the Eastern Washington man has since been sent back to prison — Clallam Bay Corrections Center — for stealing cars and guns. He will recount the rape for Snohomish County jurors as a material witness even though Francis won't face additional punishment for the earlier rape.
Baldock, the prosecutor, said he will ask DOC to make sure that the two rape victims won't be housed in the same prison as Francis after the trial. The Eastern Washington man said he's aware that his safety is at risk because of the testimony, but he said it's worth it.
"Nobody deserves to have this happen," he said. "No matter what they're in prison for."