Worker enters guilty plea for sexual coercion

Halfway house employee faces up to five years in prison

Posted: Tuesday, July 24, 2001

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The state has dropped four charges of sexual assault in exchange for an admission by a former employee of a local halfway house that he coerced an inmate into not talking about the alleged sexual relations.

Under the agreement, Rusty Tillson, 28, pleaded guilty Monday in Juneau Superior Court to coercion, a felony that carries a penalty of up to five years in prison.

Tillson was indicted in March on one count of coercion and four counts of third-degree sexual assault the latter charges under a year-old statute that makes it illegal for an employee of a facility that has custody of prisoners to sexually penetrate an inmate.

The state alleged the sexual relations took place near a motel where the woman worked as part of her work release while she was on probation and living at Glacier Manor, a halfway house in Juneau. The state did not claim the alleged relations were against the woman's will.

The alleged relations were "consensual, but that's not allowed," said Andy Swanston, operations director for Gastineau Human Services, which runs Glacier Manor, in an interview.

Tillson's attorney, Daniel Wayne, told Judge Patricia Collins that Tillson did not admit sex took place and that the woman was a "pathological liar."

"Mr. Tillson is here before the court in every way 100 percent denying that he had a sexual relationship with her," Wayne said. "He is admitting that in order to get her to stop telling stories about him, he made some threats to her."

Wayne said Tillson reminded the woman that she could be sent back to the Lemon Creek Correctional Center.

The differing versions of the facts concerned Collins, who said she might not be able to accept the plea if the defense's version was true. The issue was that the charge of coercion might not apply to Tillson if he was trying to stop the woman from telling lies, because lies aren't constitutionally protected speech that she would have the right to make.

Wayne said the type of threats Tillson made, given his position, were wrong. Collins accepted the guilty plea.

Tillson had worked for about six months in 2000 as a resident adviser, doing basic security checks at Glacier Manor, when another staff member reported the allegations, Swanston said.

Tillson denied the allegations to him, Swanston said. But GHS fired him immediately and notified Juneau police and the state Department of Corrections, Swanston said.

GHS didn't punish the woman for violating the terms of her placement at Glacier Manor because the alleged incidents involved a staff member, Swanston said.

Swanston said GHS had advocated for the law that makes such sexual relations illegal. The law stems from concerns that staffers might take advantage of their authority with special treatment or coercion, he said.

"It's something we just constantly have to be on the lookout for," he said.

Sentencing is set for Sept. 11.

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.



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