EVERETT — A Snohomish County corrections deputy is facing a felony charge after female inmates accused him of using his job to coerce them into having sex with him, and to watch them take showers.
Sean Christopher Wright, 34, was charged Thursday with one count of first-degree sexual misconduct.
The charge alleges that Wright on May 11 took a 35-year-old woman inmate into a supply closet and demanded she engage in a sex act.
The woman initially denied anything improper occurred, but she eventually told a sheriff’s detective that she was crying during the incident, and that Wright said “that if she told anyone he would get fired, and that would make her life ‘real hard’ inside the jail,” according to documents filed in Snohomish County Superior Court.
Wright has worked at the jail in Everett since September 2010. He’s been on paid administrative leave since June 5, sheriff’s spokeswoman Shari Ireton said.
The criminal investigation was handled by the sheriff’s Special Investigations Unit. An internal investigation is now underway, focusing on the allegations that Wright violated sheriff’s office policies and procedures.
The claims about jailhouse sex came to light after detectives from the Kent Police Department shared concerns about the attention that a Snohomish County corrections deputy had paid toward an inmate the detectives had interviewed, deputy prosecutor Andrew Alsdorf said in an affidavit filed along with the charge.
When asked for an explanation, the woman said the deputy had been trying to arrange to meet her for sex after she got out of jail.
A sheriff’s detective was assigned to investigate. He reportedly found that the woman “and other female inmates had received special privileges like cookies or extra time out of their cell in exchange for the defendant watching them shower or change their clothes,” Alsdorf said.
It is a felony under any circumstances for corrections officers to engage in sexual activity with inmates. The woman told detectives she had “at least two sexual encounters” and numerous sexual conversations with the corrections deputy, court papers said.
Investigators also were told about the 35-year-old woman, who had served time in the jail from March to May for an identity theft. She reportedly had talked about sexual activity with Wright.
When the detective tracked her down, she initially denied anything improper had occurred. A week later, though, she called the detective and said that there was more to the story.
She reportedly said Wright promoted her to a module worker’s job before she was eligible, and began “suggesting things,” such as letting him watch her as she showered or changed her clothes, Alsdorf said.
She also described being taken into a supply closet one evening when other inmates were in lock down. She alleged that Wright got between her and the door and insisted that she perform a sex act.
“The defendant said that (the woman) needed to trust him, and that he could lose his job and get in ‘big trouble’ if anyone found out,” Alsdorf wrote.
The woman also said that Wright had exposed himself, and said other inmates witnessed some of the behavior.
The detective found other inmates who corroborated some of what the woman reported, court papers showed.
When interviewed by the detective, Wright’s co-workers also reported concerns. They said he was sometimes inexplicably missing from his post, seemed unusually interested in catering to certain inmates’ needs, and that female inmates “appeared uncomfortable whenever they learned that the defendant was scheduled to work” swing shift, Alsdorf wrote.
One corrections deputy reported concerns about Wright to the jail’s chain of command. He said Wright had gone to inmates’ cells to “say good night,” behavior considered “highly unusual,” the prosecutor wrote.
The charge against Wright was filed as prosecutors gear up for trial next month for another former jail worker charged with similar misconduct.
Abner Canda, 59, was fired earlier this year after he was charged with first-degree custodial sexual misconduct for allegedly trading homemade cookies for sexual favors from a 22-year-old inmate.
Since being appointed in July, Sheriff Ty Trenary has focused much of his attention addressing jail-related problems.
He’s been working to bring about changes recommended by the National Institute of Corrections, which examined the jail’s operations at the request of county officials after the deaths of two inmates, both in their 20s. Those deaths led to multimillion-dollar claims against the county. A third family hired an attorney to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of a mentally ill man inside the county jail.
The push now is on to beef up corrections staff — particularly in jail health care — while reducing the inmate population.
Scott North: 425-339-3431; firstname.lastname@example.org.