Wednesday, September 27, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, September 27, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Assaulted Teacher Can Sue State Employees

PHOENIX (CN) - A teacher who was stabbed and raped working in an Arizona prison can pursue civil claims against state employees for failing to keep her safe, a federal judge ruled.

The plaintiff was working as a high school-equivalency teacher at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Eyman in late January 2014 when 20-year-old Jacob Harvey stabbed her repeatedly with a pen, ripped off her clothes and raped her, according to a complaint filed in Pinal County Court that was removed in October to Federal Court in Phoenix.

The teacher says that Harvey, who was serving 30 years for raping and beating a woman in front of her child, hung around after taking a test and took advantage of the absence of prison guards to attack her.

She says that on the morning of the attack, the camera-monitored visitor room in which she usually taught classes was being used for an awards ceremony, so officials sent her to an unmonitored classroom and gave her a radio in case students "acted up."

The teacher claims that negligent staffing created an opportunity for Harvey, and that he should not have been assigned to the medium-security unit in the first place.

Named as defendants along with Corizon Health, the Arizona Department of Correction's private health care contractor, are Warden Ron Credio, Deputy Warden Edwin Lao, Chief of Security Dorinda Hayes, shift commander Gilberto Robles, and Phyllis Wiggin, whose duties included classifying inmates' security needs.

In a motion to dismiss the state employees from the case in December, Arizona argued that "there is no allegation that any of the defendants were aware of the likelihood of harm to the plaintiff."

The state also claimed that in sending the teacher to the unmonitored classroom, the employees were "not placing plaintiff in any type of situation that she would not normally face," and that the "risk of harm, including assault, always existed at a prison like Eyman."

But U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton on Thursday refused to dismiss any of the state employees from the lawsuit. Bolton found that the teacher's complaint "alleges numerous facts demonstrating that defendants breached their duty to plaintiff to provide a safe and secure working environment."

"Plaintiff was instructed to use classroom two even though it was in a location where few corrections officers were routinely present and it lacked large windows and security cameras from which she could easily be monitored," Bolton wrote. "It also alleges that the inmates were allowed to enter and exit classroom two unescorted by officers, and that plaintiff was in classroom two with several inmates for an hour and a half without a corrections officer present, even though plaintiff was not trained to supervise inmates."

Noting that Harvey had originally been assigned to a unit with a higher level of security, Bolton found that the teacher's claims against defendant Wiggins survived as well, as they allege "actual knowledge of the serious risk of harm Harvey posed to individuals he would encounter in a medium custody unit, and Wiggin's failure to take steps to address that risk."

The state has 14 days to file an answer.

The teacher is represented by Scott Zwillinger, with Goldman & Zwillinger, of Scottsdale.

Categories / Uncategorized

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.