Pennsylvania state prison clerk blamed for her own rape in state response to lawsuit

Posted at 7:03 AM, Sep 25, 2014

(CNN) – The Pennsylvania attorney general’s office is blaming a former state prison clerk for her own rape by a prisoner in response to a federal lawsuit the woman filed.

The 24-year-old typist was working at the state prison at Rockview in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, when she was attacked in 2013. She was choked unconscious and raped for 27 minutes by inmate Omar Best, who had been convicted three times previously of sex-related crimes, and then been transferred from a different state prison for assaulting a female assistant there.

“Despite this knowledge, defendants … still allowed Omar Best to have unsupervised access to the offices of female employees,” according to the lawsuit, which also blames the state for the rape.

In fact, the lawsuit says that the prison superintendent actually moved the clerk offices from a secure floor where there was no inmate contact to a location that was on a cell block.

“There were no locked doors between the offices and cell blocks, including Block C where (the victim) worked, except for the copy room,” the lawsuit states.

Even though Best was convicted of the rape in May and a review of the prison found multiple failings and led to the superintendent’s removal, a senior deputy attorney general wrote that the woman “acted in a manner which in whole or in part contributed to the events” in his response to her lawsuit.

It’s victim shaming at its worst, the woman’s lawyer told CNN.

“Worse than that, it’s an attempt to embarrass the victim,” said Clifford Rieders, a Williamsport, Pennsylvania, attorney.

The state attorney general’s office at first declined to comment when the matter was reported by the Centre Daily Times, in State College, Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, the office released a statement saying that it is required to present all possible defenses and “contributory negligence is one such defense.”

In the statement provided to CNN, the attorney general’s office said, “This initial filing should not necessarily be interpreted as meaning this defense will be pursued throughout the entire case,” adding that elected Attorney General Kathleen Kane was not aware her senior deputy included that defense in his filing.

“Attorney General Kane is disappointed that she was not made aware of this matter prior to the filing, and was saddened to learn that the filing implied that the victim somehow contributed to this crime.”

Best is serving a life sentence for the woman’s rape. The Pennsylvania state victim advocate said it’s hypocritical to use victim-blaming as a defense for the prison.

“I think it’s absolutely deplorable to blame the victim in this case,” Jennifer Storm told CNN.

“It’s not common legalese in rape cases,” Storm said of the AG’s defense. “And it shows a significant lack of sensitivity to not understand the harm this has done to the young woman and the re-victimization she’s going through today.

“In a rape case, this is plain victim-blaming.”

Storm and Rieter both pointed out that the local district attorney, Stacy Parks Miller, who prosecuted Best, whole-heartedly believed the victim. And so did a jury.

“The DA went to bat 100% for this victim,” Storm said. “To then backtrack … it’s despicable, I’m disgusted.”.

“It’s obviously completely inconsistent with the criminal trial,” Rieter said. “I think it’s bad lawyering. It’s what some lawyers do. I don’t think it’s right, or just, and has no basis here … There are some people in this day and age who will still do that even though there is no factual or legal basis for it.”

According to the suit, Best had been convicted three times prior of sex-related offenses. In 2010, DNA testing linked him to the 1999 abduction and rape of an 18-year-old woman in Philadelphia, and he was sentenced to 7 to 15 years in prison for it. In 2011, he pleaded guilty to rape and robbery in another Philadelphia case and was sentenced to 15 years in state prison.

In a 1996 case, he pleaded guilty to indecent assault, after being charged with attempted rape, the lawsuit says.

Then, while imprisoned at another facility called Graterford, Best assaulted a female assistant, according to the lawsuit, and was transferred to the state prison at Rockview in Bellefonte, where this victim worked.

The victim had complained twice to her boss — about a week before the attack — that she felt uncomfortable and unsafe with Best coming into her office. She was assured Best would no longer have access to her office, the lawsuit states.

But on July 25, around 8:30 a.m., Best went to her office under the guise of taking out her trash, and grabbed the woman from behind, choking her until she passed out. She tried to blow a distress whistle she carried, but no one heard it. Her lawsuit also claims the prison was understaffed.

A prison investigation led to the firing of the superintendent, Marirosa Lamas, the hiring of 70 new corrections officers, and the moving of those offices where she had worked to a more secure space, away from inmates.

In the state’s response, it denied that the internal investigation was the reason for Lamas leaving.

The victim is suing the state Department of Corrections, her former supervisor, the block manager, and the former superintendent, Lamas