Monday, May 17, 2010

Custer County settles with sexually abused former inmates for $10 million

By Ron Jackson

Custer County commissioners reached a $10 million settlement Monday in a 2007 federal lawsuit over sexual abuse of 14 female inmates by former sheriff Mike Burgess and some deputies.

Former Custer County Sheriff Mike Burgess is shown in this Jan. 17, 2009, file photo as he arrives at the Major County Courthouse in Fairview. BY PAUL HELLSTERN, OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVE


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HOW $10m bill


Custer County taxpayers will ultimately pay for the $10 million settlement through property taxes. Payments will be spread over three years, likely beginning with new tax bills in November.

Residents with a property value of $50,000 will pay an additional $90 a year. Those with a property value of $100,000 will pay an additional $180 a year.


Taxpayers will ultimately pay the bill, which will be applied to property taxes. Payments will be spread out over the next three years, County Treasurer Karen Clanton said.

"Mike Burgess?” said Darrel Dupree, chairman of the commissioners. "I hope I never see him again. Ten million dollars is a lot of money, and it’s a shame the people of Custer County will have to pay.”

Burgess, 57, is serving 79 years in prison. He was convicted in January 2009 of 13 felony charges related to female inmates and drug court participants, including kidnapping, forcible oral sodomy, sexual battery and rape.

"I don’t feel sorry for the people of Custer County,” said Sue McDonough, mother of victim Brenda Brown. "Those people voted him into office, and they knew what was going on at that jail. The deputies knew, the commissioners knew, everyone knew, and still they re-elected him.

"Maybe now they’ll think twice next time before voting someone into office.”

Brenda Brown, 44, was one of the victims who testified during the criminal trial, which was moved to Major County because of intense media coverage. Brown told jurors how Burgess threatened to send her to prison for violating the rules of her drug court if she didn’t perform sexual acts on him.

Brown detailed how Burgess pulled his truck off U.S. Highway 183 near a roadside barn Jan. 3, 2007, and forced her to perform oral sex. Jurors later found Burgess guilty of four charges — totaling 23 years in prison — related to that episode.

"I’m on top of the world right now,” said Brown, who noted her share of the settlement is nearly $2 million. "I think I’m gonna buy some rental properties, and make some investments, maybe buy some gold and silver.

"I’m also planning to open a transitional home in Branson (Mo.) for people in recovery.”

Victims Joy Mason, Melissa Espinosa and Brown will divide the bulk of the settlement, said Greg Williams, an attorney with the Garrett Law Office in Tulsa. Williams declined to discuss specific figures, but Brown said she and Mason will receive nearly $2 million apiece, while Espinosa will receive nearly $1 million.

Similar lawsuit in Delaware County
The Garrett Law Office will receive half of the $10 million settlement, Brown said. The firm is engaged in a similar civil lawsuit in Delaware County where 24 former female inmates are plaintiffs.

In Custer County, deputies were accused of violating the civil rights of female inmates by forcing them to expose their breasts for basic items such as toothbrushes and soap. No deputies ever faced criminal charges.

"I’m just glad we were finally able to cut through all the conspiracy and corruption and get those women what they deserve,” Williams said. "This has drug on long enough.”

Attorneys filed the lawsuit in October 2007. Burgess resigned in April 2008 after 35 felony counts were filed by special prosecutor Mike Boring of Woodward.

Since then, Brown said, her life has been "a nightmare.”

"I use to have nightmares about Mike Burgess,” Brown said. "After he raped me, I was afraid to go anywhere by myself. So I didn’t. You know, nobody ever stood up to him before. But now he’s where he should be — in prison.

"If anything good came out of this, it was that it scared me straight. I’ve cleaned up my life, and now I’m very happy.”

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