Taking Action

Inmate faces life in prison for attack on worker at short-staffed state prison

Taking Action
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(WRIC) — On Aug. 17, 2018, just days after 8News exposed a severe staffing shortage at the prison, 8News learned of an inmate’s attempted sexual assault on a worker at Augusta Correctional Facility in Craigsville. 

Multiple sources told 8News that a counselor at Augusta was in to treat an inmate when he exposed himself and attempted to assault her. Fortunately, another inmate saw what was happening and put a stop to it.

“We are going to make sure that we have adequate follow-up on that situation,” State Senator Emmett Hanger of Augusta told 8News in August. 

Hanger confirmed he was briefed on the incident and shared what happened with the state’s Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran.

“We are not housing boy scouts there these people have committed crimes in the past, they are very capable of violent actions, so they have to be closely monitored,” says Hanger.

8News learned on Monday that the inmate in the case, Sean Earl, was convicted of two felonies, attempted rape and abduction with intent to defile. The charge for abduction with intent to defile could put Earl in prison for life. 

Earl has also been convicted of two misdemeanors. Earl, who was moved to Red Onion State Prison after the attack, will be sentenced Aug. 23. 

8News sources blamed the attempted attack on that lack of staffing. 8News has uncovered corrections officers are being pulled from other prisons and sleeping and showering in cramped trailers a week at a time to cover a critical shortage at Augusta.

“And it did appear there the situation because the supervisory position have been spread thin at those facilities,” said Hanger.

Augusta County Commonwealth’s Attorney Timothy Martin told 8News that during the trial, testimony confirmed that there were no correctional officers near the counselor when she screamed for help. 

“In my mind, I have absolutely no doubt that woman would have been raped if not for the heroic actions of the other inmate,” Martin said. 

The other inmate, identified as Jeffery Michel, saved the counselor but was badly hurt by Earl. 

After first learning of the attempted assault 8News reached out to the Department of Corrections for comment. Last August, DOC spokesperson Lisa Kinney wrote: 

“I appreciate your concern about staff safety. While I can’t speak to the details of yesterday’s incident, I can tell you that there were no staff injuries at Augusta yesterday.” 

However, even before the incident, 8News had received an email from a concerned insider warning, “Counselors make building rounds in those housing units without a floor officer…talk about being at risk!”

Hanger admitted the General Assembly hasn’t adequately addressed the low staffing and high turnover at our state prisons. 

“There is an under-staffing there or a lack a staffing of sufficient staffing in my opinion,” Hanger said.

He believes staffing and starting pay will have to be revisited next session. In the meantime, he thinks efforts to reduce the prison population could help too.

“We have a lot of medical costs, mental health issues and I think we can we can kind segment some of that population out of our state corrections facility into other treatment modes,” said Hanger.

The Department Of Corrections added, when 8News reached out in August, that in the last three year’s there have been no serious assaults on staff at Augusta. These stats were provided to 8News:
•    1 serious assault on staff during FY2016
•    0 serious assaults on staff during FY2017
•    4 serious assaults on staff during FY2018.

Statistics prior to 2015 can be found online here. 

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