Pennsylvania Woman blamed for her own rape while working in a prison

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

The Pennsylvania attorney general’s office is blaming a former state prison clerk for her own rape, 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.

9 comments

  • chris

    I was incarcerated in sci houtzdale from 2008-2012. It was very common for female staff to be fired for sex acts with inmates because how easy it is to do. But a lot of the time it was the staff who initiated it. That is rape fyi.

    • Stephanie

      being forcibly raped is completely different than staff getting involved with an inmate. That woman did not have a choice. The only reason that staff and inmate relationships are considered “rape” for the inmate is being “you” the inmate do not have the consent to give because you are state property. I do not agree with relationships between staff and staff let alone staff and inmates but don’t you DARE compare what that woman went through to what you perceive as “rape”.

  • OneMan'sOpinion

    Not specific to this case, I will say that there are women who do predispose themselves (repeat, themselves) into situations where rape will be a very real possibility. Yes, I said that kind of wishy washy. It’s akin to a rich dude walking around downtown with $20 bills taped to his suit at midnight. How dumb is that? This is victim-blaming, too only when we talk about rape, (again, not specifically talking about THIS news story), the rape victim is always defended as never having anything to do with placing themselves into risky situations where something bad could very likely happen. Ask yourself this, how bad do you feel for the drug dealer who gets shot on a bad street deal? He knows the risks of the behavior in the situation in the location……………Yes, let my bashing begin below…………..

  • Zachary

    That’s not a viable argument. Taking someone’s money is a lot different than stealing someone’s right over their own body. A drug dealer on the corner is aware, and if not aware should be, of the possible outcomes of his/her chosen “profession.” An employee shouldnt have to go work wandering, “is today the day I get raped at work?” Rape and other sexual assaults are a very real and sad part to our society. Everyone should be aware of themselves enough to protect themselves from harm, but that only goes so far. Teaching people, mainly women, to adjust their lifestyles is the wrong road in which to follow. The time has passed on teaching society that rape is wrong, and it is NEVER the victims fault. If you truly believe that this woman was at fault and could have done more to prevent this horrible event, than you yourself are thinking like a rapist. She informed her superiors, and they did nothing. If she decided to not go to work and got fired, what was she to do? Rape is rape is rape and it is wrong. There is no grey area. Another point to be made is this is not only shameful to the victim, but every other victim of a sexually violent crime. Kathleen Kane and her office should be ashamed of themselves for the disgusting statements that are being spewed from their degrading mouths. I hope this woman wins her case, and then I hope she sues Kathleen Kane personally for defamation of character, because that is exactly what she has done!

  • KevSco1971

    This whole situation is despicable and I cannot believe how many people are questioning the victim’s motivations or judgement. Shame on all of you.

  • moondreamer923

    Wow, I just can’t believe they would actually accuse this poor woman of causing her rape. This is just a terrible attempt to turn fault away from the prison. Even in a situation where a woman is flirting or even making out with a man, once she says NO that’s it, no means no and anything after that is rape! This poor woman couldn’t even say anything as she was choked and knocked unconscious!! To have to go thru that and then have the blame put on you is just unimaginable! What is wrong with country?!

Comments are closed.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.