DOC whistleblower was fired after reporting sexual abuse, coverups
Whitney Louis built a 15-year career as a psychologist helping incarcerated people learn how to transition back into society.
She expected to do the same when hired at Dr. Eddie Warrior Correctional Facility, a women’s minimum security prison in Taft, Oklahoma. Instead, she was thrown into the middle of what she alleges were sexual assault coverups.
A female prisoner accused a male corrections officer of bringing her contraband in exchange for oral sex.
A woman accused a corrections officer of having a sexual relationship with her and using his state phone to take nude images of her.
A woman reported to Louis a male corrections officer opened her shower curtain and watched as she showered.
Louis said she gained the trust of female prisoners through programs geared toward rehabilitation. Eventually, Louis filed a Prison Rape Elimination Act complaint that was never investigated.
“I told them there were at least eight of these rapes and sexual assaults that were happening between officers and inmates, and every one of them got to resign,” Louis said. “Like there were no charges brought to them. There was no investigation.”
Her allegations are documented in emails to the Office of Inspector General, which investigates crimes within the Department of Corrections.
Louis alleges that the DOC ignored multiple reports of sexual assault, including her own, which also took place at the prison. Louis applied for whistleblower protection, but was fired.
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections publishes yearly data on sexually based crimes on its website. Sexual misconduct by staff exceeded all other categories. Since 2016, there have been 72 substantiated reports of staff sexual misconduct.
In 2022, Louis reported to an Office of Inspector General agent that sexual assaults weren’t being investigated. Louis created a list of names that included officers accused, witnesses and alleged victims. She gave the agent the list via email so he could contact all the women who made allegations and or witnessed the sexual abuse.
A sexual relationship between prisoners and corrections employees violates the Prison Rape Elimination Act even if it’s consensual due to the power difference. Posters are hung throughout the prisons explaining that sexual relationships are illegal.
On July 7, Louis emailed Agent J. Dale Hunter a list of allegations and names of women she could remember who had made accusations. The following day, Louis emailed Hunter again. In that email, she included the 2022 dates she said a female officer had sexually assaulted her between March 20 and April 20. Louis said the officer squeezed firmly on her buttocks and laughed afterward.
Louis included additional incidents she hadn’t included in the July 7 email, providing more victims Hunter could contact.
In her written statement, she said she was initially afraid to report the assault because the employee had a close relationship with Warden Greg Breslin and Deputy Warden Margaret Roper. Louis said she experienced panic attacks when encountering the lieutenant throughout the prison.
“I felt like it threw me back into when I was sexually assaulted as a child,” Louis wrote, “I didn’t know what to do. I felt extremely hot all over my body and felt like that little kid again that didn’t have a voice.”
Eddie Warrior officials reprimanded Louis for making the reports. In the letter Louis received on Oct. 12 from Laura Pittman, the director of population and programs for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Pittman said Louis failed to report the allegations promptly.
Louis told Oklahoma Watch she didn’t know the allegations were not being investigated until 2022.
“They have always felt comfortable confiding in me,” she said. “I just thought things were being investigated and done appropriately.”
Pittman told Louis via email an investigation found the allegations unsubstantiated.
“The serious nature of these allegations can harm the reputation of accused staff and will not be tolerated,” Pittman wrote in the reprimand letter.
A month after reporting the allegations to Hunter, Louis asked again to be transferred to another facility. She was denied on Aug 3.
Louis filed requests for whistleblower protection and a retaliation complaint through the U.S. Department of Labor and protection from Oklahoma’s attorney general.
The labor department says an employer cannot retaliate against an employee exercising their right to be a whistleblower. Whistleblower status guarantees someone protection when they come forward with allegations of government wrongdoing. In Louis’ situation, she said the prison administration targeted her for making the reports.
Louis was fired on Jan. 10 for failing to report a prisoner's violent dream.
On Feb. 8, a former Eddie Warrior correctional officer reported sexual assault coverups, alleging that Roper deleted nude images from an officer's phone.
"No charges or anything was filed because they didn't want the bad publicity,” the officer wrote. “I know she was not the only girl that happened to.”
Louis filed a complaint regarding her termination. On March 10, 2023, Judge Colby Addison of the state's civil service division ruled Lewis was wrongfully terminated and shall be reinstated with back pay.
"Having heard testimony and reviewed the exhibits presented, the court finds that Louis satisfied her burden of proof by establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that DOC lacked a reasonable basis to terminate her employment," Addison wrote.
In response, DOC later claimed Lewis is among the 5% of state employees not entitled to file a complaint with the civil service division after termination, even though her termination letter stated she could.
The case went before a second judge under a motion to reconsider. Since Louis' termination letter stated she could file a complaint, Racheal Dewberry, an administrative law judge, said the previous court ruling stands.
On May 5, Dewberry ordered DOC to rehire Louis with all back pay and full benefits. Her termination shall be expunged from her personnel record and disciplinary file.
Oklahoma Department of Corrections spokesperson Kay Thompson said the agency wouldn’t comment on rehiring Louis since there is pending litigation.
However, the agency said they take sexual abuse reports seriously and they work hard to ensure all reports are investigated.
“The referenced PREA complaints filed at the Dr. Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in Taft, Okla., were investigated in accordance with agency and Federal policy and found unsubstantiated,” Thompson wrote in an email.
Louis said her job was to help the women succeed and to protect them. She said she doesn't regret reporting even though she said she was retaliated against and fired.
State Rep. Justin Humphrey gave a copy of the whistleblower rape allegation book to the state attorney general’s office. Phil Bacharach, a spokesman for Attorney General Gentner Drummond, would not confirm or deny whether an investigation was ongoing.
"Does this prove that rapes occurred?” said Humphrey, who chairs the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee. “It does not, but it is a very good document to verify that an investigation is warranted.”
The Office of Inspector General assigns agents to investigate crimes in Oklahoma prisons. That includes agents assigned to follow up with sexual assault allegations, which Louis said didn’t happen.
"They're still department employees investigating other employees or inmates (for) any sexual case in the department," said Humphrey, R-Lane. "And this appears to be the department covering up the department."
Ashlynd Huffman covers criminal justice for Oklahoma Watch. Contact her at email@example.com and 405-240-6359. Follow her at @AshlyndHuffman.