Former Clallam County Corrections Deputy Howard Blair (right) sits with attorney Larry Freedman during Blair’s sentencing Wednesday. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Former Clallam County Corrections Deputy Howard Blair (right) sits with attorney Larry Freedman during Blair’s sentencing Wednesday. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

No jail for Clallam County deputy guilty of inmate abuse

Howard Blair’s lawyer said “an extremely dangerous situation” would ensue if his client went to jail.

By Paul Gottlieb / Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — A former Clallam County corrections deputy who had sexual contact with female county jail inmates will serve three months on electronic home monitoring after pleading guilty to four counts of custodial sexual misconduct.

Howard Andrew Blair, 55, will serve no jail time.

He pleaded guilty Wednesday in Clallam County Superior Court to reduced charges — four counts of second-degree custodial sexual misconduct, gross misdemeanors with maximum jail terms of 364 days each.

At least 19 instances of sexual contact were cited in the original probable cause statement against Blair between January-September 2017. He resigned in December 2017, facing termination that had been recommended by his superiors.

Judge Lauren Erickson sentenced Blair to 364 days, with each count running concurrently.

She suspended 244 days and allowed Blair to serve 120 days on electronic home monitoring, saying she feared for Blair’s safety if he served time behind bars.

Blair’s lawyer, Larry Freedman of Port Angeles, argued for no jail time, telling Erickson that, according to Sheriff Bill Benedict, “an extremely dangerous situation” would ensue if Blair, a corrections deputy for 10 years, served jail time in the Clallam County jail or any jail.

“We have to look at Howard Blair, not just in the period of time when he was seeking attention and seeking acceptance and sexual contact with people he had no business doing that with,” Freedman said, noting Blair’s exemplary military record as a Marine and Coast Guard member.

Erickson called Blair’s actions “a blatant use of power.”

“You had all the power,” Erickson said.

“The victims had no power.”

Blair made a brief statement before being sentenced.

“I would like at this time to apologize to all the women that are involved, and it’s never been my intention nor in my nature to harm any person in any way.”

Blair is also required to obtain a sexual deviancy evaluation.

Four women had said Blair had fondled them or that they had disrobed for him, or performed oral sex on him, and that he repeatedly made lewd comments and gestures that included him touching them inappropriately, such as grabbing their hips.

One woman said Blair tormented her intermittently for three years.

He would insist on watching her take showers, she said.

The woman stood in court not 20 feet from Blair as she recounted her experience Wednesday in a written victim-impact statement. It was read to Erickson before Blair was sentenced.

“I got to the point I coudn’t deal with it anymore and tried to end my life,” the woman said. “It still affects me.

“I’m not the only woman affected.

“He should pay just like we have.”

Grays Harbor Prosecuting Attorney Katie Svoboda prosecuted the case for the Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office at no cost under a conflict-of-interest arrangement between the jurisdictions.

Svoboda had asked for a sentence of 364 days, with all but 45 days suspended, with 30 days of that converted to community service and 15 days in jail.

“I don’t find 45 days an appropriate sentence,” Erickson responded.

Eight women had claimed that Blair was sexually inappropriate with them to some degree, up to digital intercourse, but one of the victims “sympathized” with Blair, while others did not want to come forward, Svoboda said.For some, the statute of limitations had lapsed. Others did not want to come forward with formal charges.

Corrections deputies “have access to inmates the way no one else does,” Svoboda said.

The same factors that made the victims difficult to serve as witnesses against Blair, a divorcee and a father, “make them perfect victims for Mr. Blair,” Svoboda said.

Citing Freedman’s assertion that Blair had served honorably in the military, Svoboda said Blair “knew better and should have done better.”

After the sentencing, Svoboda said that Blair’s sentence is “basically house arrest, which apparently is common in Clallam County.”

She said Erickson has the discretion to impose jail time or electronic home monitoring.

“I don’t know what would be good enough because of what he did,” Svoboda said, describing Blair’s actions as “pretty despicable.”

The woman who had her impact statement presented in court Wednesday said after the hearing that she was satisfied with Blair’s punishment.

“I’m happy with that,” she said.

“I thought it would only be 15 days” in jail, she said.

The woman said she was glad she made it to Wednesday’s hearing and that she is doing OK.

“I’m healthy, I’m sober, and I’ve got great women behind me, and I can do it,” she said.

This story originally appeared in the Peninsula Daily News, a sibling paper of The Daily Herald.

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