The federal court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania notified parties last week to plan the next steps in the case brought against the state Department of Corrections for the brutal rape of an employee.
The plaintiff is a 24-year-old woman who was beaten and choked unconscious in the July 2013 assault at Rockview state prison. Inmate Omar Best was convicted on charges of rape, sexual assault and aggravated assault in May. The Centre Daily Times does not identify rape victims.
Prosecutors used testimony of other prison employees, emergency responders and experts and the emotional account of the victim herself to paint a vivid picture of the days of attention from Best that culminated in the 27-minute attack that left the woman’s eyes blood red for weeks. A jury returned the verdict in less than two hours.
A month before that trial, attorneys for the victim filed suit in federal court against the department, Rockview, Secretary John Wetzel, then-superintendent Marirosa Lamas and others. It alleged failures of safety and communication that led to the assault, among the “many deficiencies” noted in the claims.
On Aug. 28, the court ordered a scheduling conference to decide what happens next.
“Heavy duty discovery is starting to ensue,” said plaintiff’s attorney Clifford Rieders, of Williamsport. “We have requested lots and lots of documentation.”
Rieders said that information includes records about the rape and events surrounding it, including what prison officials knew and when they knew it.
“We have some work to do,” he said.
In June, the case was referred to U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan E. Schwab for mediation. In July, the plaintiff’s attorneys were directed to send in settlement demands. Rieders did not rule out mediation or settlement, saying the parties have worked together in a “cooperative spirit” so far.
DOC spokesperson Susan Bensinger declined to speak on the subject.
“We do not comment on ongoing lawsuits,” she said in an email.
The department is facing an additional case at Rockview. Counselor Melissa Reed said she had brought up safety concerns before the rape and faced retaliation in the form of demotion and denied promotions. She filed a whistleblower lawsuit in Commonwealth Court in October.