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Federal jury finds county liable in deputy's rape of female prisoner

Erie County was hit with a $500,000 verdict in a federal civil rights trial involving a former prisoner who was raped by a deputy in the Erie County Holding Center.

The federal jury found the county liable for violating the civil rights of a female prisoner who was raped in the jail by a former jail deputy, Marchon C. Hamilton, in December 2002.

The woman testified last week that Hamilton raped her after forcing her into a deputy's bathroom in the jail. According to court records, Hamilton pleaded guilty to a rape charge in 2003 and was sentenced to five years' probation.

"We're pleased with the verdict. The trial was an emotional thing for my client to go through," said Robert H. Perk, one of the rape victim's attorneys.

Jurors found the county liable for civil rights violations but did not find that the county sheriff's office was negligent.

In her lawsuit, the woman claimed that overcrowding and poor training of deputies caused an unsafe environment in the downtown Buffalo jail. The woman's lawyers had asked the jury for $2.5 million in damages.

The civil rights lawsuit was filed in 2003 by Perk and attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., but Cochran died of a brain tumor in 2005.

The Buffalo News is not publishing the name of the woman who filed the lawsuit because she is a sexual assault victim.

On Tuesday, county attorney Cheryl A. Green said she disagrees with the verdict and hopes to file post-trial motions with the trial judge, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah J. McCarthy.

If McCarthy turns down those motions, the county will probably file an appeal, Green said.

"We feel there was not sufficient proof of a civil rights violation. There was no negligence, so it was a split verdict," Green said. "On an appeal, we feel we would have a very strong likelihood of success."

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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