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Officials seek dismissal in prison worker assault lawsuit

April 12, 2021 GMT
This undated photo provided by the Pinal County Sheriff's Office shows Jason McClelland, a former Arizona corrections sergeant who was arrested on sexual assault charges in 2020. Three Arizona officials are seeking to be dismissed from a lawsuit filed by a corrections officer who alleged that she was subjected to a hostile environment at the Florence prison where she said McClelland sexually assaulted her and three others who worked there. McClelland has pleaded not guilty to the charges and to a misdemeanor assault charge for allegedly slapping another woman on the buttocks. (Pinal County Sheriff's Office via AP)
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This undated photo provided by the Pinal County Sheriff's Office shows Jason McClelland, a former Arizona corrections sergeant who was arrested on sexual assault charges in 2020. Three Arizona officials are seeking to be dismissed from a lawsuit filed by a corrections officer who alleged that she was subjected to a hostile environment at the Florence prison where she said McClelland sexually assaulted her and three others who worked there. McClelland has pleaded not guilty to the charges and to a misdemeanor assault charge for allegedly slapping another woman on the buttocks. (Pinal County Sheriff's Office via AP)
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This undated photo provided by the Pinal County Sheriff's Office shows Jason McClelland, a former Arizona corrections sergeant who was arrested on sexual assault charges in 2020. Three Arizona officials are seeking to be dismissed from a lawsuit filed by a corrections officer who alleged that she was subjected to a hostile environment at the Florence prison where she said McClelland sexually assaulted her and three others who worked there. McClelland has pleaded not guilty to the charges and to a misdemeanor assault charge for allegedly slapping another woman on the buttocks. (Pinal County Sheriff's Office via AP)

PHOENIX (AP) — Three Arizona officials are seeking to be dismissed from a lawsuit filed by a corrections officer whose supervisor was accused of sexually assaulting her and three others who worked at a prison.

The lawsuit says managers at the Arizona State Prison Complex in Florence turned a blind eye to sexual harassment and created an atmosphere where Sgt. Jason McClelland believed he could harass others without consequences.

Earlier this month, lawyers for Corrections Director David Shinn, former Corrections Director Charles Ryan and Florence prison Warden Jeffrey Van Winkle said they should be dismissed from the civil case, arguing there’s no accusation that plausibly suggests that the three officials knew whether the harassment was going on.

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The officer who filed the civil complaint said that she was sexually assaulted at the Florence prison by McClelland twice in 2019, but didn’t come forward out of fear of retaliation until last summer, when a nurse said McClelland had sexually assaulted her. “There is nothing in the (legal) complaint to indicate how any of the supervisory defendants could have known of the alleged assaults; defendant Shinn was not even employed by the department when they allegedly occurred,” the state’s lawyers wrote.

McClelland is charged with sexually assaulting three women. He also faces a misdemeanor assault charge on accusations of slapping the buttocks of another woman who worked at the prison, according to court records. McClelland has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The corrections department has said it has zero tolerance for criminal conduct committed by staff members and that its investigators arrested McClelland after they examined the allegations. The lawsuit said corrections officials didn’t reprimand McClelland after he made a sexual advance on another female corrections officer in August 2014 and later promoted him to sergeant.

“Based on the allegations in their own investigation, the conduct seemed so pervasive that it would be difficult to imagine that they (prison officials) didn’t know,” Anne Findling, an attorney representing the officer who filed the suit, said in an interview.

Mark Mendoza, an attorney representing McClelland, declined to comment on the lawsuit and sexual assault allegations against McClelland.

The officer who filed the lawsuit was worried that if she reported the sexual attacks, other officers would not back her up in dangerous situations with inmates, given McClelland’s status as a well-liked member of the staff, the lawsuit said.

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While corrections officials said McClelland was terminated, the lawsuit said he resigned five days after his arrest.

The Associated Press is not identifying the officer who filed the lawsuit because it generally does not name people who say they are victims of sexual assault.

The officer said McClelland began to spread rumors around the prison complex that they had willingly “hooked up” and that officers subjected her to character assassination and sexual harassment, including another sergeant who offered to pay her $300 for a date, which she declined, according to the lawsuit.