Southern Indiana

A federal judge has ordered Clark County Sheriff Jamey Noel to provide more information for one of his defense claims in a lawsuit filed by women who say they were attacked at the county jail.

Noel and other Clark County Jail officials are facing two federal lawsuits from 28 women who say they were assaulted or raped after incarcerated men bought an officer’s keys to access the women’s area of the jail last October. The women say Noel and the officers violated their civil rights by failing to protect them.

In his answer to the first lawsuit, which was filed in June, Noel outlined eight defense arguments to challenge the validity of the women’s claims. One of those arguments cited the Prison Litigation Reform Act, which requires incarcerated people to “exhaust” a jail’s in-house administrative remedies for complaints before filing a lawsuit.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Debra McVicker Lynch, who’s overseeing the case in the Southern District of Indiana, issued an order Friday that said Noel failed to provide an “adequate factual basis” for the defense.

Noel has until Sept. 16 to either file more information to support the defense or withdraw it.

If Noel doesn’t meet the deadline, the judge will consider the defense abandoned.

In addition to the 20 women suing Noel and other officers in the initial lawsuit, eight unnamed women filed a similar civil case last month. On Thursday, Noel’s attorney submitted a court filing to oppose the women using pseudonyms during litigation.

“Sheriff Noel has demonstrated the prejudice he will suffer and, additionally, vague assertions that the Plaintiffs ‘fear’ embarrassment or reprisal without a showing of specific circumstances does not provide this Court with enough to find ‘exceptional circumstances that justify a departure from the normal method of proceeding in federal courts’ to allow Plaintiffs to ‘litigate in the dark,’” Noel’s attorney wrote in the court filing.

Judge Lynch scheduled a pretrial telephone conference for both cases for Sept. 20.

Noel has launched his own website to “bust myths” about the lawsuits.

David Lowe, the officer accused of selling the jail keys for $1,000, was arrested in October. He pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges against him, and his trial is scheduled to start in the fall. The federal lawsuits name him as a defendant, alongside Noel and unknown jail officers.

John Boyle is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. John’s coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by the Caesars Foundation of Floyd County, Community Foundation of Southern Indiana and Samtec, Inc.

John Boyle is a reporter and editor at WFPL news focused on Southern Indiana. He is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.