Major failures in security at State Correctional Institute – Rockview led to Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel ousting the head of two state prisons in Centre County.
An internal investigation into the July 25 rape of a 24-year-old typing clerk at Rockview – where an inmate was reportedly alone with the victim for 27 minutes – shows numerous failures on the part of administrators, including ousted Rockview and Benner SCI Superintendent Marirosa Lamas.
The internal investigation outlines the following breakdowns in security:
– Administrators failed to appoint a unit manager in the housing unit where the crime occurred.
– Breakdown in the response to employee reports of inappropriate inmate behavior.
– Inadequate or non-existent emergency personal alarm systems for employees.
– Code of Ethics violations by staff not performing their duties.
– A lack of monthly unit staff meetings and documentation of issues discussed at those meetings.
– Failure to provide and document required staff training.
– Failure by prison administrators to inspect each housing unit on a regular basis as required by policy.
Authorities released details of the investigation Thursday.
“While nothing we can do or say can change the criminal event that took place in July, what we can do now is ensure these specific areas are addressed not only at SCI Rockview, but throughout the state prison system,” Wetzel said in a prepared statement.
Lamas was managing both Benner and Rockview. Results of the internal investigation prompted Wetzel to place a superintendent at each facility.
Wetzel named Steven Glunt superintendent of Rockview. Since 2010, Glunt served as superintendent of SCI-Houtzdale and the Quehanna Boot Camp.
David Pitkins, former regional deputy secretary for the Corrections Department, will serve as acting-superintendent of SCI-Benner starting Jan. 1.
“After reviewing investigative information, it is clear to me that we need to take Rockview and Benner in a new direction,” Wetzel said. “Our review has revealed many instances where our own policies had not been followed, as well as areas where our procedures needed to be improved.”
The assault also prompted the department to make other internal changes, including:
– Relocating clerk typists away from inmate housing units.
– Providing all employees who do not have radios with personal duress systems to alert others of emergency situations.
– Increasing accountability measures to monitor the management of prison administration.
– Implementing new training procedures for all new hires to ensure appropriate training is provided in a timely manner.
Additionally, the department reached out to the Moss Group, an agency of experts in the area of sexual safety assessments. The group will provide an external review and a vulnerability assessment of the prison.
For months, the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association called for security changes at Rockview and throughout the prison system. President Roy Pinto issued the following statement in response to Wetzel’s decision:
“A change in leadership was necessary, but we will not comment further until we’ve had an opportunity to thoroughly review the findings. It’s our hope the steps taken to improve safety at SCI-Rockview are applied statewide to protect all employees.”
Lamas is no longer working at Rockview, but is still employed with the Corrections Department. Officials are still determining her placement.
The clerk who was brutally attacked raised concerns about the inmate charged with the crime prior to the attack. Court records show the victim asked a corrections officer to keep the inmate out of her office.
Still, somehow the inmate was able to be alone with the typist in her office for nearly 30 minutes, during which time Omar Best, 36, of Philadelphia allegedly choked her unconscious and sexually assaulted her, records show.
Best entered the victim’s office, which was within Best’s housing unit, and told her he was there to take out her trash, according to the affidavit. When she handed him the trash can he allegedly threw it and attacked the victim. She told police she blew her whistle, as a signal for help, but no one responded.
Best also allegedly told the victim that he had a knife and threatened to stab her.
“The victim said she believed she was going to die and fought for her life until she was choked unconscious,” the affidavit states.
Police said prison surveillance video shows Best was alone with the victim for 27 minutes. DNA evidence confirmed Best as the assailant, police said.
The victim, who had only worked at the prison for six weeks, became uncomfortable with Best so much so that she asked a corrections officer to ensure Best no longer had access to her office, which was located within Best’s housing unit, records state.
Since the incident, officials transferred Best to SCI-Huntingdon where he is still incarcerated. Nearly three months after the attack, state police charged Best with five felonies, including aggravated assault, rape and sexual assault. In October, he waived his right to a preliminary hearing.
Best has criminal charges dating back to 1994. In 2010, while incarcerated for previous offenses, Philadelphia police charged Best with the 1999 armed abduction and rape of an 18-year-old woman. Advances in DNA testing linked Best to the crime. Best was reportedly linked to the 1999 rape after submitting DNA to authorities upon his conviction for an armed robbery. At the time, he was already serving an 8 to 17 year sentence for 1999 charges of armed robbery and indecent assault.
In 2012, a judge sentenced Best to 7 to 15 years in state prison for the 1999 rape.
The clerk is no longer employed with the Corrections Department. Susan McNaughton, spokeswomen for the department, says the victim now works for another state agency.