PHOENIX (AP) — An Arizona teacher who was left alone in a classroom and then raped by a convicted sex offender filed a $4 million claim on Thursday against the state Department of Corrections.
The claim comes nearly six months after the attack at the Eyman prison and a week after the state’s worker safety agency launched a full review of the state prison system’s worker safety practices.
The teacher was alone in a classroom with no guard nearby on Jan. 30 when a convicted rapist assaulted her. Details of the case were first reported by The Associated Press after an open records request.
The claim says the department “failed miserably” in its duty to keep the teacher and other employees safe.
Filed with the state by the teacher’s attorney, Scott Zwillinger of Scottsdale, the claim said the corrections department understaffed the prison’s Meadows Unit for sex offenders, failed to monitor violent sex offenders when they were with non-guard staff like the teacher and failed to provide equipment to civilian staff that would allow them to defend themselves and quickly call for help in an emergency.
“This is just outlandishly egregious, it’s just jaw-dropping,” Zwillinger said in an interview.
Corrections spokesman Doug Nick said the department couldn’t comment on pending litigation.
Prisons officials have said there were no security lapses that led to the rape, but they have since begun installing cameras in all prison classrooms, increased checks on non-guards and have begun issuing them pepper spray.
Gov. Jan Brewer, asked about the rape at an unrelated event Thursday, also said she couldn’t speak freely about the case.
“That was a terrible, terrible situation, and of course if there’s litigation it’s going to be very difficult for me to weigh in on it,” Brewer said. “But it was an awful situation.”
The attack raised questions about prison security because the teacher was put in a room full of sex offenders with no prison-guard supervision nearby. Authorities said the inmate, Jacob Harvey, lingered in the room after other inmates had left, stabbed the teacher with a pen and raped her.
“As a result (the teacher) has struggled not only with physical pain from the stabbing and rape but traumatic emotional distress that she struggles with each and every day,” and will for the rest of her life Zwillinger wrote. He called the attack horrific and wrote that “given the sheer absurdity of permitting a violent rapist to be left alone with a woman in an unguarded classroom” she can expect to win a judgment in excess of $10 million should the case go to trial.
The Associated Press does not normally identify victims of sex crimes.
The Meadows Units houses about 1,300 rapists, child molesters and other sex offenders. The prison is in Florence, about 60 miles southeast of Phoenix.
A former deputy warden at the prison, Carl ToersBijns, has said the assault highlights chronic understaffing and lax security policies that put staff members at risk.
Harvey, 20, has been indicted on sexual assault, kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon charges. Harvey pleaded not guilty at his arraignment last month and his public defender has declined to comment.
Zwillinger is alleging civil rights violations by the prison system because they are failing to protect employees. The teacher has filed a workers compensation claim, which normally bars litigation. But Zwillinger said he can sue because the incident is likely the result of ‘extreme recklessness’ and violated her civil rights.
“The folks who work in the prisons have probably one of the most dangerous jobs that people can have,” Zwillinger said. “But they still have a right to be safe, and to know that when they go to work in the morning they’re going to be home with their families. That has to be addressed, it has to be talked about, it has to be corrected.”
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