Lawsuit alleges female detainees forced to put on "sex shows" in Grainger County Jail

Jail tile / photo courtesy of Getty Images

Female detainees at the Grainger County Jail were forced to put on "sex shows" for a male correction officer, who climbed atop milk crates in a control room for a better view and masturbated, a proposed class-action lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Greeneville, Tennessee, alleges former Grainger County Sheriff's Office corrections officer Travis Hank Davis ordered female detainees "to strip naked for him or perform various sex acts on each other while he watched and masturbated within the confines of the control room of the Grainger County Jail, [known as] the Bubble."

Attorneys Lance Baker, Clinton Little and Matthew Evans said in the lawsuit that Davis was fired in April 2021 after two Grainger County detectives interviewed their clients – Candace McGhee and Chasity Bailey – but no criminal charges have yet been filed.

The Tennessee Lookout on Thursday reached out to the Knoxville FBI office, which is tasked with investigating alleged civil-rights violations in jails and prisons. FBI spokesman Jason Pack said the agency could "neither confirm nor deny" an ongoing investigation.

A Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokesperson said the agency has not been asked to investigate and Grainger County Sheriff James Harville did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit accuses Harville, jail administrator Chris Harville and corrections officer Leonard Dalton of ignoring both the women's complaints and what the attorneys contend were obvious clues of Davis' alleged misconduct.

"[The women's] complaints were ignored and their requests [to be moved away from Davis' authority] were denied, leading them to perceive that Officer Davis was untouchable," the lawsuit states. "Officer Davis' abuse of the [women] was overt and frequent – occurring on approximately thirty (30) or more occasions from Feb. 11, 2021, to April 18, 2021.

"Yet," the lawsuit continues, "Sheriff Harville and jail administrator Harville failed to investigate, discipline, question or stop Officer Davis' horrific sexual abuse and degradation of female inmates until approximately April 24, 2021, when he was eventually fired."

The attorneys are seeking class-action status, which would allow all female detainees who may have been victims of Davis' alleged sexual demands to collect damages without having to file their own lawsuits. The lawsuit seeks $15 million in compensatory and punitive damages or, in the alternative, $500,000 per alleged victim.

'Sex shows'

Davis, the lawsuit said, worked as a dump truck driver before being hired as a jailer in Grainger County in May 2020. He was assigned to guard women, a practice known as "cross-gender supervision" that violates correctional institution best practices, the lawsuit states.

At the time of the alleged sexual assaults, McGhee was serving a 270-day jail sentence on a probation violation conviction. Bailey was a pretrial detainee, accused but not yet convicted of a probation violation.

The lawsuit alleges Davis first groomed the pair by acts of favoritism, including bringing them "lighters for their cigarettes."

"As time passed, however, he became increasingly verbally sexually aggressive toward the [women], routinely directing vulgarities at them," the lawsuit states. "For example, he remarked that he pictured their faces instead of his wife's when he and his wife were having sexual relations the night before, or asked them to describe their breasts and genitalia."

According to the lawsuit, Davis used the intercom and loud-speaker system inside the jail's control room to make those comments.

"Significantly, when Officer Davis spoke on the intercom, every other female inmate housed in the pod – and presumably other corrections officers who passed through there – could also hear what he was saying," the lawsuit states.

"Soon, Officer Davis began to demand that [the two women named in the lawsuit] and other female inmates housed with them engage in sex acts while he watched from the control room and masturbated," the lawsuit stated.

"Over and over again, for months, Officer Davis directed the [two women] and other female inmates to perform various sex acts, while he watched and masturbated from the Bubble, frequently directing the [two women] and other female inmates to move around in the cells, in order to give him a better view," the lawsuit stated.

Davis, the lawsuit alleges, "stacked milk crates up on the control room floor and stood on top of them to optimize his view, as he watched and masturbated."

"The 'sex shows' orchestrated and directed by Officer Davis were hardly a secret, as inmates in the female pod regularly heard Officer Davis making the demands on the intercom to watch female inmates have sex and witnessed, or at least heard, the 'sex shows' going on from their own cells," the lawsuit states.

The women allege in the lawsuit they "complained directly" to Dalton in March 2021, but he "shrugged off their complaints." When the women asked Chris Harville to move them away from Davis' assigned cellblock, he refused, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit said the women were interviewed in late April 2021 by two Grainger County detectives. After those interviews, the lawsuit states, Bailey was transferred to the Claiborne County Jail without warning or explanation.

Quoting records obtained from Grainger County, the lawsuit said Sheriff Harville fired Davis on April 24, 2021, "for violating the code of ethics, for officer misconduct and for abusing his position, among other reasons."

The attorneys said in the lawsuit they have filed several requests for documents, video and other evidence related to the case with Grainger County officials via the state's Open Records Act.

"Grainger County has only partially complied with those requests, pointing to a 'pending investigation' concerning Officer Davis, stating 'while the Grainger County has preserved video, statements and reports relating to this matter, those materials cannot be produced at this time,'" the lawsuit states.