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Civil suits filed against former probation officer

Posted: May 10, 2013 - 12:11am

ANCHORAGE — Former state probation officer James R. Stanton already has served jail time for targeting vulnerable women in his basement office at the Nesbett Courthouse downtown.

Now he’s facing a rash of civil lawsuits that accuse him of sexually preying on far more women than the three victims in the criminal case. The suits also target the state of Alaska, which employed Stanton. The suits contend the state either knew or should have known of his misconduct and failed to protect the women.

Eleven women have sued, with the first case brought months after the criminal charges were filed in 2010 and the most recent one in March. All are former defendants who had been under Stanton’s control as a probation officer. The women are seeking financial damages.

Stanton pleaded guilty in May and was sentenced in September to six months incarceration and five years probation for harassment and bribery. An Anchorage judge threw out more serious felony sexual assault charges, ruling that even if a woman is pressured to have sex to stay out of jail or keep her children, that doesn’t constitute “force” under Alaska law.

Perhaps the first sign that something was askew came in 2003 when a defendant complained of a disturbing encounter.

She was charged with drunken driving. Stanton was supposed to assess whether she needed treatment. But in the interview, she later told a police detective, he sexually harassed her. She reported the incident within a day to a supervisor.

The woman came forward a second time in 2010 after she saw a newspaper story about Stanton’s arrest. That 10-year-old complaint -- and the apparent lack of any disciplinary action against Stanton -- is now a key part of lawsuits against him and the state departments of Corrections and Health and Social Services.

Anchorage lawyers Dan Libbey and Les Syren, who are handling nine of the 11 civil lawsuits, included a partial transcript of her 2010 interview with police in voluminous recent filings. They are seeking a court order to force the release of records, including Stanton’s personnel file.

In statements to police now filed in court, the women — identified only by initials or as Jane Does — describe Stanton groping their breasts, buttocks or crotch areas. They say he harassed, threatened or bribed them. Or worse. One says he raped her in his office. Another says he came to her home to discuss her case, but instead they had sex and never talked about what she was facing.

In other filings, Stanton’s co-workers describe a sexually charged work environment in which he regularly made lewd comments about various women in the courthouse that were dismissed as “that’s how Jim is.”

The Parnell administration is vigorously fighting the women’s lawsuits. But it also pushed through legislation this year to close the gap identified in Stanton’s criminal case. The measure specifies that a probation officer having sex with someone on probation constitutes a third-degree sexual assault.

Stanton, now 56, said in a telephone interview this week that most of what is being alleged “did not occur.” He admitted he was off-color with co-workers but said he never fondled or raped anyone.

“I’m not going to say I didn’t joke around with some of them. That’s not what I’m saying at all. But I am saying I didn’t touch any of them,” Stanton said.

He said he pleaded guilty because under the plea deal, his felony bribery conviction will be set aside if he successfully completes his probation.

He worked for the state for more than 14 years, first in different posts with the Department of Corrections, then as a probation officer in the Department of Health and Social Services. His most recent job was with Wellness Court, in which drug and alcohol abusers agree to treatment and strict monitoring in exchange for lighter sentences. He also worked a few months with the Division of Juvenile Justice.

But instead of helping women to new, sober lives, he pursued them for sex and concealed failed urinalysis drug tests that could send them to jail or cost them custody of their children, according to the conclusions of Superior Court Judge Michael Spaan, who sentenced him last year.

Stanton served about 3 1/2 months at the Anchorage jail. He’s now back home in Wasilla on probation. He retired from his state job. He can’t afford an attorney, he said, so he is representing himself in the lawsuits.

His co-defendant, the state of Alaska, has at least three lawyers fighting the suits.

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