Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Former Airway Heights Corrections Center officer alleges sexual harassment against training supervisor

Airway Heights Correction Center is seen in this July 2018 photo.   (DAN PELLE)

A former corrections officer at the Airway Heights Corrections Center is suing the state Department of Corrections, alleging she was sexually harassed by a training supervisor in 2019.

Daniele Tavenner is accusing one of her former training supervisors, Sgt. Jack Richardson, of attempting to coerce her into a sexual relationship, according to the lawsuit filed late last week in Spokane County Superior Court.

The Department of Corrections does not comment on current or pending litigation, said Jacque Coe, a department spokesperson. Richardson is currently employed at the Airway Heights Corrections Center.

Tavenner filed a tort claim in February with the state Department of Enterprise Services before initiating the lawsuit. Represented by Spokane attorneys Daniel Hayward and John Harper, Tavenner is seeking damages to be proven at trial, stemming from emotional and economic suffering, according to the filing.

Harper said the next step is to make contact with the state Attorney General’s Office. The case has been assigned to Superior Court Judge Michael Price. The state has not yet filed a response to the allegations.

The allegations

According to the lawsuit, Tavenner was hired by the Department of Corrections in February 2019.

An Air Force veteran, Tavenner completed a four-week training session at the Correctional Worker Core Academy in Walla Walla before she was assigned to the Airway Heights Corrections Center in April 2019, according to the lawsuit. Her assignment started with three shifts of on-the-job training.

While the first shift passed without incident, according to court documents, Tavenner alleges the second saw her summoned to Richardson’s office “under the guise of ‘training’ and a checklist requirement.”

It’s then that Richardson explained how the corrections center’s culture was “like high school, where rumors of personal relationships were openly discussed.”

“Sgt. Richardson explained that male staff members would attempt to begin a sexual relationship with her because she was a ‘hot blond chick,’ ” the lawsuit states. “Sgt. Richardson called Ms. Tavenner the DOC’s ‘prostitute’ because she would be working on-call shifts and would be required to work whenever the Defendant required her to work.”

Tavenner alleged Richardson then offered her “protection” from male staff members and inmates in exchange for sex, explaining how he would retaliate against any who disrespected her.

“Sgt. Richardson further explained that if an inmate disrespected, threatened, or harmed her, he would ‘take care’ of that inmate,” the lawsuit states. “Sgt. Richardson implied the inmate would experience physical violence when he told Ms. Tavenner how it used to be acceptable for jail staff to fight with inmates.”

According to the lawsuit, Richardson then demonstrated the way he used to conduct “pat-downs” on the breasts of female employees – a technique that was “akin to groping,” the legal filing described.

Telling Tavenner to stand up, Richardson allegedly demonstrated the method without touching her, Harper said. Tavenner stood in a “defensive posture” with her hand on her pepper spray, according to the lawsuit.

Richardson then allegedly explained how he used to “hump” his female team sergeant, saying he did not get in trouble because he and the sergeant “agreed to lie about it during the investigation.” He allegedly said he had been closely watching Tavenner from afar.

“After her shift, Ms. Tavenner was in tears and sobbed uncontrollably for multiple days. Anxiety and fear consumed her mind and dramatically impacted her sleep and everyday life activities,” the lawsuit states. “She had committed herself to be a corrections officer but was sure that it was a matter of time until Sgt. Richardson would harm her.”

Report and resignation

Tavenner avoided Richardson during her third shift the following day, according to the lawsuit.

She reported Richardson’s alleged conduct three days later on April 15 to a diversity and inclusion consultant with human resources, according to the lawsuit. Tavenner reportedly proposed options to keep her from interacting with Richardson, such as working in a different unit.

“These proposals were summarily dismissed on the spot without any evaluation for whether the solutions were possible,” the lawsuit states. “Defendant did not offer any support to Ms. Tavenner after making her complaint.”

Tavenner resigned the next day, April 16.

It was then, the lawsuit states, Airway Heights Corrections Center Superintendent James Key called Tavenner to his office to apologize that she felt unsafe due to Richardson’s behavior.

The lawsuit described the apology as so matter-of-fact, “Tavenner understood that she was just the next victim.”

“To Ms. Tavenner, this was a tacit admission that Defendant was aware of a history of inappropriate conduct by Sgt. Richardson but was, for some reason, unwilling to do anything about it,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit claims Tavenner continued to suffer emotional distress and also had difficulty finding another job with similar pay.