- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 4, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - An indictment obtained by The Associated Press reveals new details about the reported sexual assault of a female corrections officer in Yuma by a state prison inmate, but state correction officials still refuse to release a report on their investigation.

The indictment against inmate Fernandes Masters alleges he kissed and fondled the guard’s breasts and tried to have intercourse with her.

Prison officials have said co-workers rescued the officer after she called for help. Officials have provided no further details of the April 13 attack.

The AP sent a public records request to the Department of Corrections in May seeking investigation reports and any conclusion the state reached on prison security, among other issues. But officials have refused to release the information, citing an ongoing investigation and concern for the victim.

“The Department will not jeopardize the confidentiality and integrity of an ongoing criminal investigation by producing documents at this time,” corrections spokesman Andrew Wilder said in a statement. “In addition, the victim of this violent sexual assault remains at home, still traumatized by the attack. The Department will not facilitate the further traumatization of the victim by producing documents that either reveal the victim’s identity or that can lead to such a revelation.”

The reports are apparently complete, however. Assistant Yuma County Attorney Roger Nelson confirmed he used a corrections investigation report to obtain an indictment against Masters.

In addition, the indictment identified the officer. It is AP policy not to name victims of sexual assault unless they come forward and voluntarily identify themselves.

The woman, a senior corrections officer, was meeting with Masters in an office when the alleged assault occurred. Wilder previously said an initial review found no prison policies or procedures were violated.

A prison guard union official told the AP in May that the inmate choked the female guard and was removing her clothes when other officers intervened.

Masters was indicted June 4 on charges of sexual abuse, aggravated assault of a corrections employee, kidnapping and attempted sexual assault. His attorney, Robert Billar, did not return several calls seeking comment on the case.

Media attorney Dan Barr said Monday there is no legal reason for corrections officials to withhold the documents under Arizona’s public records law. First, the state Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that the law has no exemptions for ongoing investigations. In addition, allowing an exemption for potential trauma would allow virtually any report to be withheld.

“They could say that with any police report,” Barr said. “They’re just making up stuff.”

The attack was the second sexual assault on a female prisons employee in Arizona in the past two years. A teacher at a prison in Florence was raped last year and is suing the state for failing to protect her.

The state’s workplace safety agency fined the corrections agency for failing to ensure the teacher’s safety, but that fine is being appealed. The department opened an investigation into the sexual assault in Yuma after it was reported by the AP.

Masters, 31, has a history of assaults, including at least one on staff members.

He 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.


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

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