Pennsylvania to pay $3.3M to prison clerk raped by inmate serving time for rape

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HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania — The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections said Monday it has agreed to pay a clerk $3.3 million to settle a federal lawsuit over her rape by an inmate inside Rockview State Prison, an attack that prompted operational and leadership changes.

The deal, signed last week by a lawyer with the attorney general's office, also calls for the woman to meet with the state's corrections secretary to air her "concerns with respect to enhanced protection for non-contact ... prison employees."

The settlement agreement and release was provided to The Associated Press by the Corrections Department under a Right-to-Know Law request.

The lawsuit against the prison agency and three prison officials said the inmate, Omar Best, attacked the woman from behind in July 2013 and choked her to the point of unconsciousness before he raped her in an office located near inmate cells.

She blew an emergency whistle, but it was nearly a half-hour before she was rescued and taken for medical treatment. She had been on the job for about a month at the time, with duties that included preparing parole packets, sorting mail and typing various documents.

Best, 37, had previously been convicted of rape in 2012. He is now incarcerated at Huntingdon State Prison.

In a court filing this fall, the attorney general's office said the victim might have "contributed" to the attack.

The attorney general's office, which represented the Corrections Department, later said that filing should not necessarily have been interpreted as meaning that a particular defense would have been pursued through the entire course of the litigation.

The woman had said prison officials ignored her safety and security concerns — as well as her fears about Best — prior to the attack. Best was convicted of rape, sexual assault and aggravated assault and sentenced in September to life in the case.

Her lawsuit said she suffered numbness in her right hand and left arm, visual issues that lasted a month and a half, and feelings of "fear, stress, anxiety, distress, trauma, confusion and embarrassment."

The Associated Press generally does not publish the names of victims of sexual assault. Messages left for the woman's lawyers were not immediately returned Monday. The payment is expected to be made by the end of January.

After the assault, her lawsuit said the Corrections Department moved clerical staff out of the cell blocks at Rockview, which is located outside State College in central Pennsylvania, and employees were given emergency alert systems. The Rockview superintendent also was replaced.

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