Arizona Agrees to Settlement in $4 Million Prison Teacher Rape Lawsuit

The Arizona Department of Corrections has agreed to settle a lawsuit alleging that it failed to provide a safe work environment for a teacher who was raped while administering a GED test at a state prison.

The teacher, who was the subject of a New Times cover story in July, originally sought $4 million. However, a settlement notice did not specify the terms of the deal. A confidentiality provision barred attorneys from disclosing details.

Jacob Harvey, 21, was sentenced to life in prison in September for the attack.

In January 2014, Harvey, who was one year into a 30-year sentence for rape, waited until all the other inmates completed their tests and left. Then he asked the teacher, a petite 35-year-old, to unlock the bathroom for him. When her back was turned, he wrestled her to the ground and repeatedly stabbed her with a pen.

In her lawsuit, the teacher argued that the DOC’s security was inadequate. There were no corrections officers and no cameras. Nobody heard her cries for help.

The teacher’s rape was one of 412 assaults on DOC staff in fiscal year 2014, an increase of 36 percent since 2005.

Although, in many states, officers are assigned to stay in classrooms with teachers, it was normal at the time “for a teacher to be alone with a dozen [to] 20 inmates for two or three hours at a time and not be checked on,” according to one of the victim’s colleagues at Arizona State Prison Eyman.

While the number of inmates in Arizona prisons has climbed over the past decade, the number of corrections officers has been cut. In 2013, the DOC fought the Legislature to restore funding for some of the lost jobs. However, it hasn’t been able to fill them.

As a result, David Lopez, a former DOC sergeant, said he was often required to operate with far fewer officers than stipulated by the department’s own security protocol.

“In training, we are taught that there should never be more than 10 inmates to one officer,” Lewis told New Times. “But on any given day, we are outnumbered probably 50 to 1.”

The lawsuit also accused the DOC of improperly tending to Harvey’s mental health needs. Harvey, who has fetal alcohol syndrome, was flagged as high-risk during a mental-health assessment at booking, but, his family said, was given no treatment. Just a few months before the rape, the DOC moved him from a close custody unit, which offers the second-highest level of security, to a medium-custody unit against the recommendation of his case manager.

Nearly two years after the attack, the teacher, who has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress syndrome, has still not returned to work. She told New Times she is not sure she’ll ever feel safe in a classroom again.

She pursued the lawsuit, she said, because she wanted to push the DOC to tighten security.

“No one should go to work and wonder if they’re going to come home at 5 o'clock,” she said. “Regardless of where they work.” 
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Elizabeth Stuart
Contact: Elizabeth Stuart