Sex charge against jail officer dropped

EVERETT — Snohomish County prosecutors dropped a felony charge Thursday against a corrections officer accused of coercing female inmates at the county jail to engage with him in sexual activity.

Sean Christopher Wright, 34, pleaded not guilty when he was charged in December with one count of first-degree sexual misconduct.

Prosecutors on Thursday dismissed the charge. They no longer believe they can prove the case at trial, Joan Cavagnaro, the county’s chief criminal deputy prosecutor, said in court papers.

“Since the charge was filed, additional evidence has come to light,” she wrote. “Considering the current totality of facts and circumstances pertaining to this charge, and considering the most plausible, reasonably foreseeable defense that could be raised, it is highly unlikely that a jury would convict.”

Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe declined to provide more specifics.

“If we thought we could proceed with the case we would proceed with it, and do our talking in court,” he said.

Wright was represented by longtime Everett defense attorney Mark Mestel. Prosecutors did not tell him their reasons for dropping the charge, nor did they let him know Thursday that they were filing paperwork, Mestel said.

“I know that the state’s witnesses were providing conflicting statements and there was discussion that female inmates were trying to set up guards for lawsuits,” he said. “What I don’t know is whether the state recently obtained more information that jeopardized their case.”

At least one of the former inmates involved in the case filed a claim for damages against the county, often the first step before filing a lawsuit.

It is a felony under any circumstances for corrections officers to engage in sexual activity with inmates. The charge in this case involved an inmate, 35, who alleged Wright took her into a jail supply closet and demanded she engage in a sex act.

The charging papers also described allegations that Wright bribed female inmates with cookies and extra time out of their cells in exchange for being allowed to watch them shower or change clothing.

The investigation began after detectives from the Kent Police Department were visiting the jail in Everett and they shared concerns with Wright’s co-workers about the attention he reportedly was paying toward a particular inmate, court papers said. When asked, the woman claimed Wright had been trying to arrange to meet her for sex after she got out of jail, court papers said.

Wright started working at the jail in September 2010. He was placed on administrative leave with pay in June 2013, and remains in that status pending the results of an internal investigation, sheriff’s spokeswoman Shari Ireton said.

“The review process is separate from the review the prosecutor’s office does on the criminal case because his employment status is separate from the decision the prosecutor makes,” Ireton said.

Wright is the second county corrections officer since December to see a sexual assault case against him crumble under legal scrutiny. In both instances, Mestel has represented the accused.

A jury late last year acquitted Abner Canda, who also was charged with trading cookies for sex with female inmates. At trial, Mestel pointed to holes in the investigation, including a lack of documentation that Canda even was working the days that he had been accused of engaging in misconduct. Defendants, victims and the community deserve better than the investigation done in that case, Mestel said at the time.

Scott North: 425-339-3431, north@heraldnet.com

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