A Spokane County corrections officer who claims co-workers conspired to get her fired may face criminal charges for having sex with an inmate, a county prosecutor said Friday.
Former inmate Walter Zackman testified that he and Sunny Pilkington had sex several times at Geiger Corrections Center in 1992, according to two attorneys who questioned him under oath.
The accusation is a major blow for Pilkington, who is suing the county and some of its top employees, claiming she was the victim of a conspiracy.
Pilkington and her attorney, Bill Maxey, noted that Zackman repeatedly said in the past that there was no affair.
“After saying one thing for six years, I think it’s very unusual and suspect that he would change his story” three months before Pilkington’s case is scheduled to go to trial in Whitman County Superior Court, said Maxey.
Zackman gave a sworn deposition at a federal detention center in SeaTac, Wash., on Thursday. He was questioned by deputy county prosecutor Tim Durkin and Terry Lackey, a private attorney who represents county employees who are defendants in the lawsuit.
Zackman is serving a four-year sentence for conspiracy to manufacture a controlled substance. Contacted at the prison, he refused to be interviewed Friday.
Manuscripts of Thursday’s testimony are not yet available, and Durkin and Lackey would provide few details.
Durkin said Zackman’s testimony could lead to a new investigation against Pilkington. He said he “couldn’t rule out” criminal charges.
Pilkington’s lawsuit alleges that county officials covered up a scheme by co-workers who falsely accused her of the affair with Zackman.
Those Pilkington accused of the cover-up include: county corrections director Gary Oberg; Kay Walter, formerly of Geiger but now superintendent of the state’s Airway Heights prison; Jim Lindow, the county’s chief administrative officer; and Geiger administrator Mike Pannek.
According to the lawsuit, the alleged scheme included falsifying a videotape used against Pilkington in a 1994 arbitration hearing. County attorneys acknowledged during the hearing that the tape was probably doctored.
Pilkington won back her job, along with lost wages. She is on medical leave after hurting her back last year.
Lackey called Thursday’s deposition by Zackman “a very substantial piece of evidence” that goes a long way toward clearing his clients.
Lindow, Oberg and Pannek refused to comment Friday. Walter would say only that Zackman’s testimony adds credence to the county’s 1992 investigation of Pilkington’s conduct.
That investigation relied heavily on statements from one of Pilkington’s co-workers, Michael Horstman, who reported seeing Pilkington and Zackman hugging in an unlit room.
Horstman and Geiger investigator Edwin Rosario later were charged with evidence tampering for doctoring a videotape showing one of the rooms where Horstman reported seeing Zackman and Pilkington together.
Pilkington claimed she took Zackman into the room to get tools and was looking for a light switch in the center of the darkened room.
In the video that Horstman helped produce, a light is turned on with the flip of a switch near the room’s entrance. Geiger’s electrician testified during the 1994 arbitration hearing that the switch near the door never operated the indoor lights.
The charge against Rosario was dropped because the prosecutor missed a court date. A judge threw out the charge against Horstman, ruling that the tape didn’t meet the legal definition of evidence because it wasn’t used in a court hearing.
Soon after Pilkington filed her lawsuit, a county employee filed a whistle-blower complaint alleging that Pilkington was the victim of a conspiracy.
The Spokesman-Review reported last October that a Seattle attorney hired by the county to look into the matter agreed there had been a conspiracy. However, that attorney was unable to interview Zackman, Durkin said.
The October story was based on a summary of the attorney’s investigation, obtained from an anonymous source. County officials refuse to release the full report, contending that the whistle-blower investigation is on-going.
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