PHOENIX - An Arizona corrections officer has alleged in a lawsuit against the state that she was subjected to a hostile environment while working at a prison where her supervisor was accused of sexually assaulting her and three others who worked there.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday seeks unspecified damages and said managers at the Arizona State Prison Complex in Florence turned a blind eye to pervasive sexual harassment and created an atmosphere where Sgt. Jason McClelland believed he could harass others without consequences.
The corrections officer who sued the state and corrections officials alleged that McClelland first sexually assaulted her when he pulled her behind cabinets at the Florence prison in early 2019.
The lawsuit also claimed McClelland brought her to a prison building in September 2019 — where he turned off the lights, blocked her from leaving and sexually assaulted her.
McClelland had taken her to the prison’s Tactical Support Unit building because he knew she was seeking a position on the elite team that responds to crises at prisons and wanted her "to see what she would be part of," according to the complaint.
The officer did not initially report the sexual assaults for fear of retaliation and concerns that if she reported the sexual attacks, other officers would not back her up if she encountered dangerous situations with inmates, given McClelland’s status as a well-liked member of the staff, the lawsuit said.
McClelland was charged in August with sexually assaulting the officer and a nurse who worked for the state’s prison health care provider. A few months later, McClelland was charged with sexually assaulting two other people who worked at the prison, according to the lawsuit.
Mark Mendoza, an attorney representing McClelland, did not immediately respond to telephone messages seeking comment on the lawsuit and sexual assault allegations.
In a statement, the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry said its investigators arrested McClelland after they examined the allegations and then sent the case to prosecutors.
The agency said it "has zero tolerance for criminal conduct by its staff or offenders under supervision, and supports prosecution to the fullest extent of the law."
The agency did not mention in an earlier news release about the August arrest of McClelland that the alleged victims worked at the prison. Officials on Wednesday declined to confirm that the four alleged victims had worked there.
Trevor Smith, a spokesman for Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer’s office, which is prosecuting McClelland, confirmed that McClelland is charged with sexually assaulting four alleged victims, but did not say whether they worked at the prison.
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 alleged sexual assault victims.
The officer alleged that 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.
When the officer transferred from the Florence prison to attend a corrections training academy, McClelland sent her emails with wording that falsely made it sound as if they were in a relationship in what she believed was an effort by McClelland to protect himself against investigations, according to the lawsuit.
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, according lawsuit.
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