Arizona Corrections Department appealing workplace safety fine in prison teacher rape case

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PHOENIX — The Arizona Department of Corrections is appealing a large fine state workplace safety regulators levied against the department for failing to protect a teacher who was raped by an inmate a prison unit that holds 1,300 sex offenders in Florence, documents obtained by The Associated Press show.

The appeal filed last week seeks a hearing before an administrative law judge to overturn the $14,000 penalty issued by the Industrial Commission of Arizona. The Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health recommended a fine of $9,000 for two violations of workplace-safety rules. But commissioners boosted that to $14,000 at a hearing last month, with one commissioner saying the violations their inspectors found showed the rape "should never have occurred in this facility."

Another commissioner, Joseph Hennelly Jr., even suggested the department could be hit with an additional $25,000 fine, but he was told state laws didn't allow it in this case because of the type of incident.

Inspectors for the commission determined prison officials didn't ensure employees were safe from workplace violence and that corrections officials knew safety procedures were lax.

A spokesman for the Department of Corrections declined to comment at length on Friday, saying the case involving the workplace safety fines is part of an ongoing hearing.

"We are contesting it, and we believe there is the basis for doing that," spokesman Doug Nick said. He also said a lawsuit filed by the teacher prevented him from commenting further.

Nick said Corrections Director Charles Ryan would not comment.

The teacher was attacked by a convicted rapist in January 2014 and is suing top officials at the Eyman prison for failing to protect her. A federal judge allowed that lawsuit to proceed on Thursday.

The Associated Press generally does not identify people who are victims of sexual assault.

The workplace-safety investigation of the prison was launched last July after an AP story provided the first detailed account of the rape of the teacher.

The case raised questions about prison security after reports obtained by the AP showed the teacher was put into a room full of sex offenders with no guards nearby and no closed-circuit camera. She had only a radio to call for help.

Authorities have said inmate Jacob Harvey, who was less than a year into a 30-year sentence for a brutal home-invasion rape, lingered behind after other inmates left the room on Jan. 30, 2014, then repeatedly stabbed the teacher with a pen before raping her.

Harvey remains in prison and is awaiting trial on new charges stemming from the assault on the teacher. He has pleaded not guilty.

Scott Zwillinger, the teacher's lawyer, criticized the Corrections Department for appealing the workplace safety citations.

"They refuse to acknowledge when they have issues. They refuse to be introspective and look and evaluate and make changes," Zwillinger said Friday. "So rather than accept what seems a relatively obvious conclusion and to correct these matters, all they simply do is deny and fight on."

State prison officials have since installed cameras in prison classrooms, increased patrols and issued pepper spray to civilian workers. They have said issuing pepper spray had been planned before the rape.

"We understand that prisons are dangerous places filled with dangerous people, but when you run a prison with such indifference to safety that danger is multiplied exponentially," Zwillinger said. "It's about justice for my client and it's also about all the other people who work there and reside there and making sure that change occurs so that nobody else has to suffer the way my client has."

In minutes of the Jan. 8, 2015, Industrial Commission meeting where the fines were levied, commissioners repeatedly questioned how the woman teacher could have been placed in a room filled with sex offenders unattended.

Commission Chairman David Parker said he understands that there are situations where prisoners can end up alone with civilian staff.

"But something went wrong here, and this is different," he said. "It is a situation with a high risk that was allowed to move into a condition of higher risk, and what happened should never have occurred in that facility."


Follow Bob Christie at http://twitter.com/APChristie .

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