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Workplace safety agency investigating Arizona prison sex assault

PHOENIX — Arizona’s workplace safety agency has launched an investigation
into the sexual assault of a female corrections officer by an inmate at the
state prison in Yuma.

The Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health was looking into the
April 13 attack
, agency spokeswoman Rachel Brockway confirmed.

The agency can’t provide more details about why it opened the investigation,
she said Monday.

State law barred the agency from providing details of
investigations until it either closes the case or issues citations.

The invetigation came as the Department of Corrections is appealing a $14,000 fine
the agency levied on the department for failing to protect a prison teacher who
was raped at another prison in January 2014.

That investigation by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health marked a
rare entrance by the state safety agency into the state prisons.

Records
maintained by federal regulators showed only three other citations against the
state prison agency since 2010. Those were not for assaults against
officers, which is a common issue in Arizona’s prisons.

In the April case, an inmate serving a life sentence for murder attacked the
woman during a meeting in a housing unit office.

The inmate, identified by
prison officials as Fernandes Masters, 31, was pulled away from the officer
after she called for help.

She was treated at the prison and then taken for a
hospital for further evaluation.

Masters has not been charged, but the department intended to ask prosecutors to
file sexual assault, kidnapping and attempted murder against him.

The agency confirmed the investigation late Friday.
Corrections spokesman Andrew Wilder declined to comment on the probe.

“Out of
respect for the officer who was assaulted by inmate Masters, and given the
ongoing criminal investigation, the department will not discuss this matter any
further at this time,” Wilder said.

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

Masters 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.

Prison records show Masters, 31, has repeatedly been disciplined and has a
history of assaults.

Online Corrections Department disciplinary records show at
least three previous assaults, including one on a prison staff member, and an
indecent-exposure incident.

The workplace safety agency has six months from the date of the incident to
complete its investigation.