Judge won't dismiss lawsuit filed by raped prison teacher

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX (AP) -- A federal judge on Thursday denied Arizona's request to dismiss a civil rights lawsuit filed by a Department of Corrections teacher who was raped by a sex offender in a prison classroom.

Judge Susan Bolton wrote that the woman had raised plausible allegations that the prison warden and other top officials created the dangerous environment which led to her rape.

"The factual allegations ... show that defendants owed a duty to plaintiff and that their failure to perform this duty created the dangerous environment in which plaintiff was placed," Bolton wrote in her ruling. The complaint also alleged that each of the officials "had a duty to `provide a safe and secure working environment for staff,'" and they breached their duty to do so.

The lawsuit also says the department's health care provider improperly assessed the mental health of convicted rapist Jacob Harvey, allowing him to be classified as a low-risk offender.

Harvey remains in prison and is awaiting trial on rape, assault and related charges in the attack on the teacher. He has pleaded not guilty.

The case raised questions about prison security after reports showed the teacher was put into a room full of sex offenders with no guards nearby. Authorities have said Harvey lingered behind after others left the room on Jan. 30, 2014, then repeatedly stabbed the teacher with a pen before raping her.

Details were first reported by The Associated Press after an open records request. Prison officials have increased security at prison classrooms statewide since the January 2014 rape.

The AP generally does not identify people who report being victims of sexual assault.

Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Weisbard had urged Bolton to throw out the case at a hearing Monday. He wrote in his brief that the teacher routinely worked in classrooms and that there is always a risk of assault when working with prisoners. He argued the case should be dismissed because the teacher can't show the defendants she sued had actual knowledge of or willfully ignored impending harm.

The teacher's lawyer says there's nothing normal about his client being placed unguarded in a classroom with sex offenders.

Attorney Scott Zwillinger told Bolton that Warden Ron Credio, a deputy warden and other prison officials didn't protect the teacher, who was neither armed nor trained to defend herself.

"They failed in their duties, and they created the situation that led the harm to my client," he said.

Bolton's order means the lawsuit can move forward, allowing the woman's lawyer to gather evidence and proceed to trial.

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