By Conrad Wilson (OPB) / Sept. 8, 2023
A correctional officer who was charged with sexual misconduct at Oregon’s troubled women’s prison last month has faced allegations of inappropriate behavior from at least two other women. That includes another criminal investigation into sexual abuse allegations in which the Washington County district attorney declined to bring charges.
In July 2021, staff at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility called Oregon State Police detectives after a woman in custody accused Sgt. Levi David Gray of sexually assaulting her and giving her illegal drugs that she said he smuggled into the prison inside an Altoids mint container, records show.
And in a separate complaint filed with the state, a third woman who was previously incarcerated at Coffee Creek — identified in a redacted tort claim by the initials K.M. — alleged she was “forced to perform an act for the sexual gratification of Officer Levi Gray” before he would bring her items that belonged to her while she was in the prison’s segregation unit. The tort claim, which typically precedes a lawsuit, also states that other officers in that unit “were aware of Officer Gray’s sexual abuse/misconduct with other adults in custody, yet turned a blind eye.”
Last month, a Washington County grand jury indicted Gray, 47, on two felonies and two misdemeanors for sexually abusing a 19-year-old woman identified in court documents by the initials J.B.
Gray has pleaded not guilty.
“I trust your readers will bear in mind that Mr. Gray is presumed by law to be innocent of the charges,” Gray’s attorney, Michael Levine, said in a written statement to OPB. “I am confident that he will be vindicated by a jury of his peers.”
The Oregon State Police have made an unusual public appeal for witnesses, other victims or anyone with information about Gray’s behavior as a correctional officer to get in touch with detectives.
Women who have been in custody at Coffee Creek and their advocates say the institution causes more trauma, in part by failing to fully appreciate the circumstances that put people on the path to incarceration. Studies show women in prison report prior rapes and assaults at a much higher rate than the general population. When a prison culture perpetuates that cycle, advocates say, it obliterates the chance for rehabilitation.
In July, a former nurse at Coffee Creek was convicted of sexually abusing nine women while they were in custody. A recent legislative report found the prison is systemically failing the women in its care. The report also found women in custody can face punishment and retaliation after making allegations of sexual misconduct.
That’s been J.B.’s experience, according to her attorney, Lynn Walsh.
“She was sexually abused by Sgt. Levi Gray starting in April 2023 until the abuse was reported on or about May 23, 2023,” Walsh wrote in an Aug. 28 tort claim notice sent to the state. “The abuse would occur up to three times a day, up to 40 minutes on each occasion. Although corrections officers were making rounds while the abuse was occurring, they failed to intervene.”
J.B. faced “cruel conditions” in prison and faced retaliation from Coffee Creek staff since reporting the abuse, the tort claim notice states. Walsh was willing to let OPB interview J.B., but declined to talk outside her presence. The Oregon Department of Corrections denied OPB’s request to interview J.B.
Agency spokesperson Amber Campbell wrote that “interviews may be approved when they are consistent with the Department’s mission and goals and the safe, secure, and orderly management and operation of the facility; and are not inconsistent with the AIC’s correctional planning and rehabilitation. Our experience shows that interviewing individuals can draw unwanted attention to them and may be disruptive. Increased attention on any individual would cause disruption to the orderly operations of the facility. [J.B.] is involved in active legal proceedings. DOC will not interfere with or jeopardize the legal process of pending litigation.”
Campbell also declined to comment on the criminal charges against Gray. He has been on leave since May 24, the day after J.B.’s allegations surfaced, according to the Department of Safety Standards and Training, the state agency that certifies police and correctional officers. On Aug. 25, the agency opened a professional standards investigation into Gray.
The Oregon Department of Corrections hired Gray in 2010. He became a correctional officer at Coffee Creek in 2012. Before Oregon, Gray worked at prisons in Utah and Washington state, according to records from the Department of Safety Standards and Training. According to a lawsuit and a complaint filed with the Bureau of Labor and Industries, from 2005 to 2008, Gray worked as a bouncer and said he was later promoted to help manage the Viewpoint Restaurant and Lounge, which at the time was a strip club in Northeast Portland.
After he was fired, Gray filed a lawsuit against the owners of the club, stating the Viewpoint facilitated prostitution, discriminated against dancers based on their willingness to engage in unlawful sex acts, and that a club general manager sexually assaulted employees or paid them to have sex with him. In his suit, Gray also accused bartenders at the club of serving alcohol to underage patrons, over-serving other customers and allowing illegal drugs to be purchased at the club. Days after a judge denied a motion in 2010 to toss out the lawsuit in its entirety, the parties agreed to dismiss the case. Any potential settlement wasn’t made public.
Gray’s prior employment at a strip club should have “disqualified from working in a women’s prison,” Walsh wrote in J.B.’s tort claim notice to the state.
In 2021, nine years after he was hired at Coffee Creek, Oregon State Police opened a criminal investigation into Gray.
The woman in custody at the center of the 2021 case “claimed Sgt. Gray, a DOC employee brought cocaine into the prison and did three lines” with her, according to the redacted copy of the state police investigation that doesn’t include woman’s name.
“On the same day, AIC (redacted) claims Sgt. Gray touched her inappropriately through her cuff port while she was in (redacted),” the report states. On a different day, Gray “escorted her to medical and sitting in the waiting room touched her vagina over and under pant while waiting to be seen by nursing staff.”
In October 2021, detectives interviewed Gray. He denied the allegations.
Gray was not placed on leave in 2021, according to the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training.
“Employees who are under investigation are not always duty stationed at home,” Campbell, with the corrections department, told OPB. “Several factors are considered and decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.”
State police turned the results of their investigation over to the Washington County District Attorney’s Office. On Dec. 20, 2021, Senior Deputy District Attorney Allison Brown signed a one-page memo explaining why prosecutors would not file charges against Gray.
Brown overstated the length of time Gray had worked in corrections, writing that it was “almost 20 years” when it was in fact closer to 13 years, according to state records. She also noted in her memo that the alleged victim was a convicted felon.
Brown said the investigation showed “insufficient corroboration of the alleged victim’s report and evidence that she has a motive to fabricate allegations against the suspect.” Detectives, Brown said, “also learned that she was angry at the suspect because he had written her up for rule violations.”
Not only were no charges filed in 2021, but the Oregon Department of Corrections investigated the case internally, the DOC’s Campbell told OPB. State corrections investigators found that the case was unsubstantiated, meaning they couldn’t say one way or another whether what the woman alleged occurred.
That’s by far the most common finding for internal investigations conducted between 2017 and 2021 at Coffee Creek, according to the most recent state prison data available.
FEATURED IMAGE: A file photo of Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, October 2022. The facility has minimum- and medium-security housing units for all female adults in custody in the state. (Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB)