The #MeToo movement is one of the most important societal watersheds in recent history. It's an example of karma, even justice; it's an example of the bad guy paying for his malfeasance. The likes of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and others will likely never be in a position to hurt anyone again. That's good for all of us.
But not everyone is benefiting from society's newfound conscience. Brandy Lee Buckmaster isn't getting any satisfaction. Buckmaster was briefly incarcerated in the mental health unit of Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, Oregon's only women's prison, in 2013 and 2014. While there, she had a sexual relationship with a prison guard, Brian Balzer. Regardless of whether she wanted to have sex with Balzer, such a relationship is illegal -- for Balzer -- and is called "custodial sexual abuse." It is a felony akin to rape.
Buckmaster was released from prison in 2014 and sent to a halfway house. While there, she and Balzer remained in contact via email and Facebook, and they exchanged numerous messages that were sexual in nature. Meanwhile, Balzer got himself into trouble at Coffee Creek when he was caught smuggling perfume into the prison to give to another female inmate. He was charged with one count of supplying contraband. The ensuing investigation uncovered his relationship with Buckmaster.
When investigators questioned Buckmaster about her relationship with Balzer, she admitted everything. She said that, while in prison, she and Balzer had engaged in numerous sex acts, and Balzer had sent her love letters, signed in pseudonym, that nonetheless had his fingerprints on them. Balzer was subsequently arrested and charged with first-degree custodial sexual abuse, in addition to the contraband charge.
There's far more to the story than just this. It's an example of exactly what's wrong, not just with the justice system when prison guards sexually abuse or sexually assault those under their control. It's also an indication of what's wrong with so many of our judges, who lose whatever sense of justice they may once have had.
Balzer was arrested on December 3, 2015, and then released on $2,000 bail. In the months after his arrest, Buckmaster violated her parole by dropping out of a drug rehabilitation program, testing positive for methamphetamine, and failing to report to her parole officer. In June 2016, the local district attorney requested a continuance for Balzer's trial, saying that he could not locate Buckmaster so she could testify. The district attorney also requested a material witness warrant for Buckmaster.
Buckmaster was arrested on August 16, 2016, and held on the material witness warrant. She made an emotional plea for release, telling the judge that she "fell apart" once she was released from the halfway house and was struggling to stay clean. She said that she had not been hiding from authorities, had cooperated fully with investigators, and was happy to return to Washington County to testify against Balzer. The judge was unmoved.
Significantly, Buckmaster's attorney asked the judge to consider alternatives to incarceration. Buckmaster could wear an electronic ankle bracelet, the judge could order home confinement, Buckmaster could report to her parole officer daily, or she could provide a video deposition. The judge would hear none of it. Buckmaster, the victim, had to await her abuser's trial. And just to make things worse, he set her bail at $50,000 -- 25 times that of Balzer.
In the end, Balzer was convicted of first-degree misconduct, not abuse. The contraband charge was dropped. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail -- only 10 days more than his victim.
Buckmaster was disgusted. She admitted to a local newspaper that she had a drug problem and had been in and out of prison for years. But, she added, "This time is the most difficult because I didn't do anything wrong. I'm not the one to blame."
Not every #MeToo story is a clear-cut example of a predator taking advantage of somebody less powerful. Sometimes the victim may be less of a sympathetic character. But wrong is wrong. Brandy Lee Buckmaster was wronged twice -- by Balzer, who took advantage of her, knowing that she had mental health problems and ignoring the fact that he could take advantage of her "under cover of law enforcement," as the law books say. And she was wronged by the judge who locked up an innocent woman and who allowed her to rot in prison for no good reason. Shame on them both.
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