A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced former Oregon prison nurse Tony D. Klein to 30 years in prison for sexually abusing nine women at Coffee Creek Correctional Institution.
Seventeen former and current prisoners of Oregon’s only women’s prison testified that Klein sexually assaulted them when they sought medical care or worked in the medical unit in 2016 and 2017.
They said he coerced some of them into performing oral sex or having sex with him in an exam room or closet. He also stood extremely close to prisoners, rubbed up against them, groped them, pulled their hair and placed their hands on his pants, the women said.
The government has an obligation to protect those who are in its custody, U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon told Klein.
“It’s hard enough to protect them from other people who are in custody,” Simon said. “It’s absolutely outrageous for the protector to be the aggressor.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron A. Bell called the case the largest prosecution the U.S. Department of Justice has ever pursued in the nation against a government official accused of abusing his authority to commit sexual assault, based on the number of victims.
Klein, dressed in a T-shirt and khaki pants, didn’t speak during the 90-minute hearing. He mostly looked down at the defense table as his victims described the emotional and psychological trauma they endured as a result of his sexual abuse.
The public gallery in the 15th-floor courtroom of the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in Portland was standing-room only, with one side filled with Klein’s victims and their families and the other with Klein’s relatives, friends and supporters.
Four of the women who were assaulted told the judge about their struggles with long-lasting shame and anxiety.
Elizabeth Rydall, one of the victims who agreed to be publicly named, took several deep breaths as she explained how Klein’s abuse lowered her self-esteem and destroyed her trust in others. She said she has found it hard to regain a sense of safety and normalcy and maintain healthy relationships.
Other women who were abused said it was time for Klein to spend his days locked up as they had been, with limited time to see their families and a feeling of what it’s like to “always be on guard.”
“I’d like to say, ‘Welcome to my house,’” said another victim. “There are no winners here. You have destroyed many lives.”
Several of the women who spoke said they were angry that Klein has refused to accept responsibility and were dismayed that he didn’t say a word during his sentencing when he could have addressed the judge.
“How could you do this to so many women for so long?” another asked. “Was it for the thrill? In my mind it had to be, because why else would a married man choose women as broken and beaten as the women at Coffee Creek?”
Prosecutors had urged a 41-year prison term, while Klein’s defense lawyers asked for a 25-year term. Klein maintains his innocence and is expected to appeal the convictions, his lawyers have said.
A jury in July found Klein, now 39, guilty of 17 counts of subjecting nine prisoners to sexual abuse in custody and guilty of four counts of perjury for lying when he denied having any sexual contact with any incarcerated women in a 2019 civil deposition.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gavin Bruce called Klein an “opportunistic predator” who “knew better” and “counted on everyone to discount their truth.”
Klein betrayed the women’s trust and deserved a significant prison term, Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron A. Bell said.
Defense lawyer Matthew McHenry called the sentencing guideline for the offenses — life in prison — “absurd” and urged the judge to consider Klein’s personal history and the contributions he’s made in his community.
He’s a father of two daughters who has been married nine years. He’s homeschooled his daughters for the last seven years, has been active in his church, had been a volunteer coach and helped neighbors with carpentry and construction projects. During the 2020 wildfires, he helped draw burn lines with an excavator in his Estacada community, McHenry said.
“He’s a selfless individual,” McHenry said.
Since the verdict, Klein has attended daily Bible study behind bars but still helps his children with their homework or church presentations, he said.
The prosecution countered that Klein’s lack of a prior criminal record should count against him.
“He was given every advantage in his life to succeed, unlike many of his victims,” Bruce said.
The judge suggested that Klein appeared to display two different personas, one when he was at home and in his community and another when he went to work.
“I accept that in many aspects of your life, you are not a bad person. You’re good to your family. You’re good to your friends. You’re good to your community,” Simon said. “I don’t think you’re the same person when you go to work, and you know, vulnerable people are in front of you.”
Prosecutors had suggested that Klein face 30 years for the three victims whose cases led to aggravated sex abuse convictions, followed by 10 years for one victim of felony abuse, plus one more year for the five victims of misdemeanor sexual abuse.
Simon said he chose a 30-year prison term based on federal sentencing guidelines, which advise that if the “highest statutory maximum” is adequate to achieve the “total punishment,” then further prison sentences on additional counts should run concurrently, not consecutively. He said he also sought to avoid sentencing disparities with other similar cases.
Klein, who was taken into custody immediately after the guilty verdicts, is being held at the federal prison in Sheridan.
“As we have expressed throughout this prosecution, we continue to believe Tony Klein is an innocent man,” Klein’s lawyers said in a statement after the sentencing.
“He has consistently denied committing any of these offenses and has passed two separate polygraph examinations by two different polygraphers that have confirmed his denials. As a society, we know that the legal system—like any human endeavor—is not perfect. More often than we care to admit, sometimes this means that the innocent are wrongfully convicted. We believe that is what has happened here today. We look forward to the opportunity to appeal Mr. Klein’s convictions and are privileged to continue to support him and his family throughout that process.”
Klein’s polygraph tests and results were not allowed as evidence during trial.
Depending on his security-risk level, his lawyers asked that he be placed either at Terre Haute prison in Indiana if he’s deemed high-risk, at the federal prison in Sheridan if medium risk and at Terminal Island federal prison in California if he’s low risk.
Once he’s out of prison, he must have no contact or communications with any of his victims or their family members, he must undergo a sex offense assessment and sex offender treatment and periodic polygraph testing to ensure compliance with the release conditions and he can’t get a job without the approval of a federal probation officer, the judge ordered.
Kieran S. Ramsey, special agent in charge of Oregon’s FBI who attended the sentencing and part of Klein’s trial, said “to say that Klein knew better,” considering he wore a state medical prison uniform, is “an understatement.”
“He almost got away with it,” Ramsey said.
“Had it not been for these women persisting and staying brave, and had it not been for the (U.S.) DOJ and the FBI team to have stepped up and made sure this was brought to the finish line, we wouldn’t be here today.”
— Maxine Bernstein
Email [email protected]; 503-221-8212
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Elaine Hadley is a dedicated journalist covering the ever-evolving landscape of U.S. news. With a keen interest in politics and a commitment to uncovering the truth, she provides insightful commentary and in-depth analysis on domestic issues. When not reporting, Elaine enjoys exploring the diverse cultures and landscapes of the United States.