- Associated Press - Monday, May 18, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona’s workplace safety agency has launched an investigation into the sexual assault of a female corrections officer by an inmate at the state prison in Yuma.

The Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health is looking into the April 13 attack, agency spokeswoman Rachel Brockway confirmed.

The agency can’t provide more details about why it opened the investigation, she said Monday. The agency is barred by state law from providing details of investigations until it either closes the case on issues citations.

The probe comes as the Department of Corrections is appealing a $14,000 fine the agency levied on the department for failing to protect a prison teacher who was raped at another prison in January 2014.

That investigation by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health marked a rare entrance by the state safety agency into the state prisons. Records maintained by federal regulators show only three other citations against the state prison agency since 2010, and those were not for assaults against officers, which is a common issue in Arizona’s prisons.

In the April case, an inmate serving a life sentence for murder attacked the woman during a meeting in a housing unit office. The inmate, identified by prison officials as Fernandes Masters, 31, was pulled away from the officer after she called for help. She was treated at the prison and then taken for a hospital for further evaluation.

Masters has not been charged, but the department intends to ask prosecutors to file sexual assault, kidnapping and attempted murder against him.

The agency confirmed the investigation late Friday.

Corrections spokesman Andrew Wilder declined to comment on the probe. “Out of respect for the officer who was assaulted by inmate Masters, and given the ongoing criminal investigation, the department will not discuss this matter any further at this time,” Wilder said.

Masters has a history of assaults, including at least one on staff members.

Masters pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in 2007 in a plea agreement that came after prosecutors dropped the death penalty, Maricopa County Superior Court records show. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for killing his stepfather in 2004 while robbing him to get money for drugs.

Prison records show Masters, 31, has repeatedly been disciplined and has a history of assaults. Online Corrections Department disciplinary records show at least three previous assaults, including one on a prison staff member, and an indecent-exposure incident.

The workplace safety agency has six months from the date of the incident to complete its investigation.

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Follow Bob Christie at https://twitter.com/APChristie

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