ST. GEORGE – Last month a lawsuit was filed against a former Washington County Sheriff’s deputy accused of sexually exploiting three women while they were incarcerated in the county jail. The lawsuit is seeking punitive damages in excess of $500,000 from former Deputy Steven Thayer, the County Sheriff, and potentially others.
Thayer, 29, of St. George, is currently serving a 90-day sentence in the Iron County Jail after pleading “no contest” to misdemeanor charges of custodial sexual misconduct. Thayer was sentenced on April 8.
In October 2013, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office fired Thayer, and then arrested him, following an investigation alleging he had inappropriate relations with three female prisoners while working at the Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility.
The lawsuit, filed April 24, states Thayer violated the three inmates’ civil rights as he allegedly made them engage in sexual favors in exchange for favorable treatment. If they refused his advances, the lawsuit alleges, Thayer told the women he could make their time in Purgatory “hell.”
“Thayer’s threats and coercion were malicious and sadistic, and served no penological purpose, but merely the satisfaction of his own sexual and emotional gratification,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit continues, claiming the County Sheriff’s Office knew the potential risk of leaving women inmates under the supervision of male guards, and cites a previous incident in 2005 where two deputies were also accused of engaging in sexual acts with inmates.
In the 2005 incident, the lawsuit states, the deputies took advantage of a part of the facility’s layout where they wouldn’t be caught on camera or otherwise seen – something that Thayer is also said to have done.
The lawsuit states a lack of proper physical facility layout, adequate video surveillance, enforcement of rules governing unsupervised contact between guards and inmates, additional staff, and related policies helped create a situation Thayer took advantage of.
Having previously dealt with such issues before Thayer’s case, attorney Kevin Robson, who represents the three women, said the Sheriff’s Office should have had an idea it could likely happen again.
“It was pervasive enough, people in the sheriff’s office should have known,” he said. “… There shouldn’t be a system in place that allows male guards to have access to female prisoners.”
The lawsuit names Washington County and Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulispher as being “deliberately indifferent to the conduct of Thayer and the constitutional right of female inmates to be free from sexual exploitation, abuse, and assault, by failing to take any action whatsoever to prevent the violations.”
Pulsipher released a statement last week stating his office would respond to the lawsuit in court.
As for Thayer, he said, “I want my community to know that we acted swiftly and decisively to terminate Thayer’s employment upon learning of his behavior. The Sheriff’s Office does not and will not tolerate this type of behavior.”
Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap said outside counsel has been brought in to represent the county. Frank D. Mylar, of Mylar Law PC, filed his appearance of counsel on behalf of the county on April 29.
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