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Former Oregon prison nurse found guilty of sexual assault of women in custody

FILE: In this video screenshot, Tony Klein was deposed in November 2019 as part of civil litigation involving 10 women incarcerated at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, who accused him of sexual abuse.
Video screenshot
Plaintiff deposition via Michelle Burrows
FILE: In this video screenshot, Tony Klein was deposed in November 2019 as part of civil litigation involving 10 women incarcerated at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, who accused him of sexual abuse.

Tony Klein was taken immediately into custody after being found guilty on 17 of 19 counts pertaining to sexual assault. The former Oregon Department of Corrections nurse could be sentenced to life in prison.

Editor’s note: This story contains graphic descriptions of sexual assault.

A federal jury found Tony Klein, a former nurse at Oregon’s only women’s prison, guilty of sexually abusing nine women in custody.

Klein, 38, faces the possibility of spending life in prison after jurors found he deprived the women of their constitutional right to not face cruel and unusual punishment while they served sentences at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility.

Seventeen women who testified during a two-week long trial told jurors that Klein touched them inappropriately during medical appointments or as they worked as orderlies cleaning the prison infirmary. Some testified that Klein either forced oral or vaginal sex even if they protested. Others said they believed they could face discipline if they refused his advances.

“No one can go back in time and stop the defendant from violating these women,” Cameron Bell, a prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, told the jury in her closing arguments Friday. “You’ve seen and heard the evidence. You can hold the defendant accountable for what he did. The evidence is there and it proves him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The jury reached its verdict Tuesday after nearly two full days of deliberations. They found Klein guilty of 21 of the 23 federal charges he faced. That included 17 counts pertaining to sexual assault and four counts of making false statements under oath in a 2019 deposition.

The jury determined federal prosecutors did not prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt in the case of two of the accusers who testified.

“The court accepts the verdict of the jury,” U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon said. “The court thanks the jury for its hard work … As you know this is a serious case.”

After the verdict was read, Simon ordered Klein into custody.

Klein, seated between his two defense attorneys, dropped his head into his hands. Then he stood and placed his hands behind his back as two U.S. Marshals clicked handcuffs onto his wrists and led him out of the courtroom.

Klein is set to be sentenced Oct. 17.

At trial, federal prosecutors offered no forensic evidence. And Klein chose not to take the stand in his own defense.

In the end, the case was about who to believe: women with criminal convictions who recalled their assaults often through emotional and compelling testimony or a medical professional who denied sexually assaulting anyone.

A file photo of Oregon's only women's prison, Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, Oct. 19, 2022. Portland Community College says about 40 students at Coffee Creek have signed up for classes it will offer there this winter.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff /
FILE: Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, Oct. 19, 2022. The facility has minimum- and medium-security housing units for all female adults in custody in the state.

Patrick O’Halloran, the jury foreman, said Tuesday after court that jurors reached a unanimous verdict “after careful consideration.”

“It was difficult for everybody,” O’Halloran said. “You are judging people who are already at their low on what could’ve been the worst moment of their life. And that’s not something any of us took lightly.”

Oregon’s U.S. Attorney Natalie Wight said in a statement that the verdict wouldn’t have happened without the women showing courage. Wight also thanked the FBI for taking up the case.

“Tony Klein used his position of authority to prey on women in custody who were in a uniquely vulnerable position,” Wight’s statement read. “He further led his victims to believe they had no power to resist or report his abuse.”

After the verdict, Klein’s defense attorneys — Amanda Alvarez Thibeault and Matthew McHenry — expressed their disappointment.

“As we have maintained throughout these proceedings, we believe Mr. Klein is an innocent man — a fact supported by the two separate polygraph examinations he passed in which he denied any sexual contact with incarcerated persons,” the criminal defense attorneys said in a joint statement.

Accountability in cases like this is rare.

As OPB has previously reported, there were 2,229 substantiated incidents of staff sexually assaulting or harassing people in custody, nationally, between 2016 and 2018, according to a U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics report released in January. Prison employees were arrested in about one-third of the cases brought against them. But just 6% of cases led to a legal punishment like a guilty plea, a conviction or even a fine.

Klein’s defense suggested he was the victim, the fall guy of a plot by women in custody to set up a prison employee as a way to get a financial settlement from the state.

Throughout the case, defense attorneys McHenry and Thibeault reminded jurors that some of the women received financial settlements after filing civil lawsuits against the Department of Corrections over Klein’s conduct. They also repeatedly pointed out that all of the women bringing accusations had been convicted of crimes.

“You are empowered, enabled, to consider someone’s criminal history when deciding if you believe them,” Thibeault told the jury Friday. “It’s not improper. It’s not morally wrong.”

Klein worked at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville from 2010 until he officially resigned in early 2018 amid the sexual abuse allegations and a criminal investigation by Oregon State Police.

The Washington County District Attorney’s Office reviewed the criminal investigation into Klein, but in August 2018 decided against bringing charges saying the “allegations are unsupportable.”

In February, OPB reported that only a portion of the criminal investigation into Klein made it to local prosecutors, meaning they never considered some of the same evidence jurors heard this month during trial.

Numerous women filed civil lawsuits alleging sexual abuse against the Department of Corrections and Klein starting in 2019. The state settled 11 lawsuits and paid out a total of $1.87 million, while admitting no wrongdoing.

The U.S. Department of Justice indicted Klein in March 2022, following an investigation by the FBI.

Copyright 2023 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Conrad Wilson is a reporter and producer covering criminal justice and legal affairs for OPB.