The state paid $3 million to settle a lawsuit froma former Arizona Department of Corrections teacher who was raped and beaten by an inmate two years ago, records obtained Monday by The Arizona Republic show.
The settlement is $1 million less than what the woman was seeking in damages, but it is among the largest individual settlements paid out by the state to a public employee.
The records revealed the amount the state paid out; news of a settlement emerged late last month.
The teacher alleged the state was grossly negligent in allowing her to be alone in a room with a violent sex offender. She also claimed the state intentionally inflicted emotional distress on her and accused ADOC of failing to provide a safe environment for a teacher.
The state disputed and denied each of the claims, and the settlement contained no admissions of wrongdoing.
A Corrections spokesman said the agency has implemented changes to enhance the safety of its employees. Among those are installing cameras in classrooms and having officers rotate through classrooms, libraries and other work sites to conduct safety checks.
“The Arizona Department of Corrections takes the safety of its employees very seriously and has and continues to take appropriate steps to ensure that staff is as safe as reasonably possible given the inherently dangerous and violent environment and culture in a prison system,” the agency said in a statement.
Attorney General Mark Brnovich, whose office negotiated the settlement, said in a statement that the case “was settled to the satisfaction of all parties. I can assure you that my administration at the Attorney General’s Office is absolutely dedicated to the pursuit of justice in every case. The only measure of our success is doing what is right. I’ve told all our attorneys we don’t measure success or settlement amounts in terms of wins or losses, but whether it’s the right thing to do.”
Corrections has a history of workplace complaints that have resulted in taxpayer-funded payments.
This settlement eclipses the $2.55 million collectively paid from mid-2009 to late 2014 to settle seven other workplace claims filed by Corrections employees. Most involved claims of discrimination or harassment.
The Republic last year found that Corrections during that five-year period had the largest financial payouts among all state agencies, Arizona’s three public universities and the state court system.
Though the Arizona Attorney General’s Office previously would not disclose information about the most recent settlement, saying details were confidential, The Republic on Monday filed a second public-records request to obtain the settlement. A spokeswoman Monday said there was a delay in releasing the settlement because the victim did not sign the correct copy.
The settlement was paid from public funds in the state’s risk-management pool. Information on any public spending is a public record.
On Dec. 22, a federal judge ordered dismissal of the teacher’s 2014 lawsuit, in which she was seeking $4 million, after both sides reached a settlement. The notice of settlement did not specify its terms.
The teacher’s attorney, Scott Zwillinger, said Monday that the settlement prevents him or his client from talking about its terms, other than it “was settled to the satisfaction of my client.”
The teacher filed her lawsuit against the Department of Corrections in 2014. Numerous public records show she was unarmed and left alone in a prison classroom with Jacob Harvey, a violent sex offender. The rape occurred within a medium-security facility at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Eyman in Florence.
On the day of the attack, six other inmates left the classroom, but Harvey remained. He stabbed the woman repeatedly with a pen, choked her, slammed her head into the floor, tore off her clothes and raped her. There was no supervision in the classroom by correctional officers, the victim said.
The teacher told investigators she screamed for help, but none arrived. Afterward, Harvey tried to use her radio to call for help. It had apparently been changed to a channel the guards didn’t use, so Harvey let the teacher use a prison phone.
Harvey originally pleaded not guilty to the rape, but changed his plea in August to accept all indictment counts and allegations.
In mid-September 2015, he was sentenced to natural life behind bars on a count of violent sexual assault. He will also serve 36.25 consecutive years in prison for kidnapping and aggravated assault with a dangerous instrument.
Craig Harris, The Republic | azcentral.com