Montague County Faces Civil Rights Lawsuit

Three women have filed a civil rights lawsuit against Montague County for the actions of one of its former sheriffs.  They allege Bill Keating sexually assaulted them and demanded sexual favors from them while they were in jail.

Keating pleaded guilty to a charge of sexual assault in a criminal case in January 2009.  Now the county could be paying damages for his actions in a civil suit.  The attorney who filed the suit says Montague County is responsible for Keating's actions while he was sheriff.

One of the three women filing suit claims the former sheriff demanded sexual favors from her in her own home.  The other two were inmates in the Montague County Jail.  They allege they were sexually assaulted by Sheriff Keating in a patrol car and in his office.  One says she was sexually assaulted by a jail trustee.  Attorney Rick Bunch, who is representing the women, says the county is liable for the former sheriff fostering and encouraging the abuse.

"The sheriff's duty is to supervise.  He didn't supervise them.  He let them do whatever they want to, probably because he was doing it as well.  He did a lot of things that were just out and out illegal," he said.

Bunch says one victim became so fearful of Keating, she moved to Waco.  Although he could have faced up to ten years in prison, Keating died of natural causes last year before he was ever sentenced.  The lawsuit claims Montague County failed to redress the situation that sexually victimized inmates.

"When he, the sheriff, does something wrong or violates someone's constitutional rights, he's doing it on behalf of the county," Bunch said.

Bunch cites the abuse suffered by his clients as a violation of the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

"She had no recourse.  Who's she gonna call?  Who do they call then this type of thing happens?  They can't do anything.  And if then if they survive and they're lucky enough to get out of jail, then they can hire a lawyer," he said.

Ultimately, Bunch says it's the county's responsibility to properly train its employees, so it's the county's burden when things go awry with their elected officials.

"The county is faced with cleaning up the mess that he made, but he didn't make it without their vote," he said.

Montague County Judge Ted Winn says the lawsuit was handed over to an outside firm, Patton Boggs out of Dallas.  Attorney Cass Weiland has defended Montague County before.  He was unable to make a comment on the case today because the county hasn't yet been served the paperwork for the lawsuit.

Bunch says the case could probably make it to court in about two years, but he says the parties could settle outside of court before it gets that far.

Spencer Blake, Newschannel 6.