The Law Blog of Oklahoma

Teacher Raped by Inmate Files Lawsuit

Posted: Friday, July 18, 2014

A teacher working with inmates at an Arizona prison was stabbed with a pen and raped after being left unguarded with a classroom full of sex offenders. Despite the incident and the fact that the woman had no way to call for help, prison officials assert that all safety procedures were followed and that there were no security lapses that led to the woman's rape on January 30.

Now, however, the woman has filed a $4 million lawsuit against the Arizona Department of Corrections. The lawsuit alleges that the DOC "failed miserably" in its responsibility to keep employees safe from violent offenders, and the victim's attorney calls the incident "egregiously outlandish."

The lawsuit claims the following acts of negligence against the corrections department:

  • Understaffing of the prison's sex offender unit
  • Failure to monitor violent sex offenders in the presence of civilian staff
  • Failure to provide the  means for "non-guard staff" to defend themselves
  • Failure to provide the means for civilian staff to get help in an emergency

In the incident, a female teacher was giving a high school equivalency test to approximately 6 inmates--all sex offenders in a unit that house approximately 1,300 sex offenders. Their was no guard to ensure the woman's safety, nor were there cameras in the room to provide remote supervision. The teacher was given a radio to call for help in an emergency.

After the other students finished the test and left, one inmate, convicted rapist Jacob Harvey asked the teacher to open a bathroom for him. He then stabbed her with a pen and raped her. Although the woman had a radio, it was switched to a channel the guards did not use, and she was unable to contact anyone for help. Harvey eventually let the woman use a phone to call for help.

Despite the department's claims that there were no security breaches and that their safety standards are "consistent" with those across the nation, many changes are being implemented since the attack: cameras are being installed in classrooms, guard patrols are increased to check on non-guard staff more frequently, and civilian staff are being issued pepper spray.

Although the woman is suing for $4 million, her attorney says that if the case goes to trial, she could expect a jury to award upwards of $10 million.

The case shows the dangers of chronic prison understaffing, a problem which plagues the Oklahoma Department of Corrections as well. In December 2013, a female caseworker at the Joseph Harp Correctional Facility in Lexington, Oklahoma, was attacked and beaten for 15 minutes before she was able to pull an emergency switch and summon help. She said the only guard on duty in the unit was too far away to help, and that during the assault, "I was the only staff member in the offices at the time with 160 inmates on that unit."

Her assailant was serving time for rape, burglary, and assault with a deadly weapon.

Image credit: Arizona Department of Corrections

comments powered by Disqus