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Agency told to 'stand down' in assault inquiry

| Wednesday, March 16, 2016, 9:54 p.m.

PHOENIX — The Arizona Department of Corrections refused for nearly six months to allow the state's workplace safety agency to inspect a prison where a female guard was sexually assaulted.

Records obtained by The Associated Press show that the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health learned about the assault only by reading an AP story about the attack nearly a month after it happened. In the ensuing months, records show the Corrections Department repeatedly delayed the workplace safety investigation, despite laws requiring that inspectors have prompt access.

When the inspection of the Yuma prison was finally conducted in November, the room where the attack happened on April 13 was empty of furniture and prison guards had been advised they could refuse to talk to investigators. In the end, the organization determined that no workplace safety rules were broken and issued no citations.

The records show the difficulty the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health encounters when it tries to perform its core job — making sure work sites are safe for employees — inside the state's prison system. Those difficulties may become more pronounced in all workplaces as a reorganization pushed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey moves to make the agency's parent department more business-friendly.

The veteran officer was alone in an office with a convicted killer to allow him to phone his lawyer when he jumped over a desk and sexually assaulted her in April. Other guards heard her screams and came to her rescue. The unit where the assault occurred routinely placed guards alone in offices with prisoners for legal calls.

According to a narrative written by the workplace safety investigator, he complained during a July call with a private corrections department lawyer about the excessive time it was taking to get information. Over the next several months, repeated efforts were made to get the corrections department to comply, including issuing a subpoena for records.

Four months after the assault, Corrections Department Inspector General Greg Lauchner sent a letter to the workplace safety agency demanding that it “stand down” and stop investigating the assault. The letter said the sexual assault “was a felony crime, not a workplace accident.”

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