Ex-guard's suit against jail is settled

CONCORD – A former guard has settled her lawsuit against the Hillsborough County jail, federal court records show, but the terms have yet to be made public.

Doris Sanabria, of Manchester, sued the Hillsborough County Department of Corrections in 2007, claiming sexual discrimination and that she was traumatized by having to participate in the abuse of a female inmate.

Sanabria claims she suffered nightmares and anxiety after seeing several other guards torment and assault a “cognitively impaired” female inmate, and that her supervisors and other guards shunned her when she complained about it.

The lawsuit was settled last week, according to U.S. District Court records.

The lawyer representing the county, Debra Weiss Ford, of North Hampton, couldn’t be reached for comment, and Sanabria’s lawyer, Francis Murphy of Manchester, said he couldn’t comment.

“We resolved the claim, and one of the terms of the agreement is that the terms would remain confidential,” Murphy said Monday.

Records relating to the settlement may become public once filed in the Hillsborough County offices, where they are subject to public disclosure laws. No such records have been filed as yet, however, County Administrator Gregory Wenger said Monday.

County Corrections Superintendent James O’Mara said Friday that he had heard the case had been settled through mediation but hasn’t been informed about the details or terms.

Out-of-court settlements typically do not include any admissions by either side.

The county had disputed Sanabria’s allegations and argued to dismiss the case before a settlement was reached, court records show.

Sanabria began working at the jail in 2001, and her suit stems from an incident on Sept. 5, 2006, involving Shannon Oakes, a woman arrested by Manchester police. Oakes didn’t file any case against the jail herself.

Sanabria’s suit states that she and two other guards restrained Oakes because she kept banging her head against the wall of her cell and ignored orders to stop.

Oakes arrived at the jail with minor bumps, bruises and scrapes, and according to Sanabria’s lawsuit, “It was obvious to the plaintiff and the others . . . that she was cognitively impaired.”

After strapping Oakes into a made sexually derogatory remarks about her physique, squeezed pressure points behind her ears, and head-butted her, Sanabria’s lawsuit claimed. Sanabria charged that the incident “shocked and disgusted her irreparably” and that other guards and supervisors shunned her after she filed a complaint about the incident.

The Hillsborough County jail houses more than 5,000 inmates a year, including people being held while awaiting trial and people serving sentences of one year or less. People sentenced to more than a year go to the state prison.

Federal court records show that the Hillsborough County jail appears to attract far more lawsuits than any other jail in New Hampshire. It’s hard to accurately count the cases, because not all the lawsuits identify the Department of Corrections as a defendant, and some cases are filed against a police department, court or some other entity as the lead defendant.

There appears to have been a total of at least 231 lawsuits filed against the Hillsborough County jail in U.S. District Court from 1980 through the present, court records show.

In contrast, Rockingham County Department of Corrections fielded some 63 lawsuits during the same period in U.S. District Court, court records show. The Hillsborough County jail houses roughly 550 inmates on any given day, while the Rockingham County jail holds fewer than 360 inmates daily, with a total of slightly more than 4,000 inmates a year, corrections officials said.

O’Mara attributes the number of lawsuits against the jail to the nature of its clientele: prison inmates are a litigious population, having lots of time on their hands, and no disincentive against filing lawsuits, he said.


Here’s a comparison of lawsuits against the jails in Hillsborough and Rockingham counties.

2008 6 2
2007 6 1
2006 7 1
2005 8 1
2004 10 3
2003 3 4
2002 14 4
2001 7 4
2000 13 3
1999 32 1
1998 20 2

Cases a year 12.6 2.6
Source: U.S. District Court