A mentally ill inmate at the Multnomah County Detention Center is suing the county over her alleged sexual assault at the jail last year by a fellow inmate, as a result of a security lapse.

The alleged victim's lawsuit, filed in community court on June 25 by her attorney, Benjamin Haile, raises further concerns about security and supervision at the jail, in addition to news three weeks ago of the apparent unprovoked beating of a suspect there by sheriff's deputies ["Summary Injustice," News, July 19].

The plaintiff alleges she was sexually assaulted at 9 am on May 1, 2006, in her cell at the jail's administrative segregation unit, where she was being held due to severe mental illness.

The alleged perpetrator of the assault, DeRay Willis, is accused of taking advantage of poor design in the layout of the unit, which require sheriff's deputies to walk around a corner in the unit's corridor and briefly out of sight of the cells, in order to lock the doors of the cells.

While deputies were out of sight, Willis, who was in the administrative segregation unit for attempting escape, is alleged to have stuffed his bedclothes with extra blanketing in the shape of his body, and then snuck out of his cell and into the victim's cell before the deputies locked the doors.

Willis was only discovered in the woman's cell at 11 am, when he "rang [her] call button to report he was finished and ready to go back to his cell," according to the lawsuit. He had remained there for two hours, during which time five safety checks were supposed to have been performed, and allegedly admitted having had sexual relations with the victim.

No charges were ever brought against Willis, although an investigation into the alleged assault was conducted by the district attorney's office. The decision not to press charges was taken because "the victim told detectives she did not want to prosecute, stating she had enjoyed having intercourse with the defendant and that she has had sex on many occasions," according to the district attorney's declination report.

Haile refutes the allegation that his client ever told investigators she enjoyed having sex with Willis.

The alleged victim is seeking $350,000 in damages, plus attorney fees, for infringement of her Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, as a result of alleged inadequate training and supervision at the jail.

"This incident does not indicate that there is any need for more security in the general jail population," says her attorney, Haile. "Instead, it shows that a vulnerable person was actually exposed to more danger because she was taken out of the women's unit and isolated in the segregation unit. This unit was not safe."

The Multnomah County Sheriff's Office says it cannot comment on cases pending litigation.