Changes Underway at Prison In Wake of Assault Investigation

By Mallory Lane

Published 12/19 2013 05:52PM

Updated 12/19 2013 06:08PM

BELLEFONTE, CENTRE COUNTY - Changes to the state prison system are underway after a brutal sexual assault of a corrections employee in Centre County.

Police say 36 year-old Omar Best was on a work detail inside the Rockview State Prison on July 25th.

A woman working in a clerical area says she blew an emergency whistle as he approached her, but she didn't get help for 27 minutes.

During that time, Best allegedly raped and choked the woman until she was unconscious.

Thursday, Department of Corrections officials say the investigation for this case has revealed a lot of concerns and is sparking changes not just locally, but state-wide.

One of the biggest changes so far is in the leadership of SCI Rockview and SCI Benner. The superintendent during the alleged assault, Marirosa Lamas, has been replaced, effective Thursday.

Steven Glunt has been named superintendent of SCI Rockview effective Thursday. He previously served as superintendent of SCI Houtzdale and the Quehanna Boot Camp. Ken Cameron will replace Glunt at SCI Houtzdale. Cameron previously served as superintendent at SCI Cresson.

David Pitkins, former regional deputy secretary for the DOC will serve as acting superintendent of SCI Benner Township beginning January 1, 2014.

Officials say a change in leadership is just the beginning.

"It's okay until it's not," DOC Secretary, John Wetzel said. "In our field, when it's not, it's really bad."

It's a situation Wetzel calls unacceptable.

"We had a bunch of policies that just weren't followed," he said.

After a push from local legislators, the State Corrections Department launched a system-wide investigation to find out what happened that July day at SCI Rockview.

Wetzel says what they found is concerning.

"Sometimes, we're not as vigilant as we should be. When you're not vigilant in this field, bad things happen," he said.

He says prison administrators failed to appoint a unit manager in the housing unit where the alleged sexual assault happened. He also sites a lack of monthly unit staff meetings and documentation of concerns, as well as inadequate, and in some cases, non-existent emergency personal alarm systems for employees.

"When something bad happens, we all own it," Wetzel said. "If you've got someone sitting in this seat or sitting in the governor's seat who doesn't own mistakes, we've got problems."

Changes include relocating clerk typist posts away from inmate housing units system-wide and providing all employees who are not issued radios with personal duress systems.

Representative Kerry Benninghoff says the first step is admitting the mistakes.

"How can we be better?" he said. "The fact that he [Wetzel] sat here and admitted they made some mistakes and our oversight wasn't as good, but we're going to change that and we already have made those changes, says we're heading in the right direction."

Senator Jake Corman says this is just the beginning.

"It's our job now to review that and to provide the oversight that's necessary to see if there are any other changes that need to be made," Corman said.

There are still a lot of questions surrounding the alleged assault, including why it happened in the first place and why Omar Best was able to be alone with the victim for so long.

Wetzel says once this case is prosecuted, he will address those questions.

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