A former employee at a corrections halfway house in Juneau was sentenced Thursday to two years in prison with 20 months suspended for coercing an inmate not to talk about an alleged sexual relationship between them.
Rusty Tillson, 28, pleaded guilty in July to a count of felony coercion stemming from incidents in November and December 2000. The state dropped three counts of sexual assault that stemmed from a law forbidding an employee of a prison facility from engaging in sexual relations, consensual or otherwise, with an inmate. The state had said the sex was consensual, but the defense said there was no sex.
Tillson has four months to serve with two years of probation to follow.
"It's not easy to sentence a young person who is so well-liked and well-respected in the community," said Juneau Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins. "I've had to make a hard decision today. I wish you and your family the best of luck for what I'm sure will be a bright future."
Tillson worked doing basic security checks for Gastineau Human Services, which runs a halfway house in the Lemon Creek area, for six months before he was fired when allegations surfaced from a co-worker that he was having sex with an inmate, GHS Operations Manager Andy Swanston told the court.
Swanston said Tillson told the female inmate, who was at GHS for felony theft, that she could be sent back to the Lemon Creek Correctional Center, the state prison, and could lose her child if she said they had sex.
Tillson, through his attorney, denied he had a sexual relationship with the woman. Attorney Daniel Wayne said Tillson made threats because the woman was making threats of her own to spread that rumor.
In his testimony Thursday, Swanston said Tillson was a "good employee," but described the woman as "manipulative."
Swanston, who notified authorities after questioning Tillson and the woman, said this sort of manipulation is common among inmates.
"There is a certain type of inmate who will use familiarity with the staff to manipulate to get what they want," he said. "It is a medical condition and it's most common to women."
Swanston also said he warned employees before this incident, after he saw the woman being overly flirtatious with the employees, to be cautious around her because she "was going to cause trouble for some people."
When attorney Wayne asked about the woman's credibility, Swanston said, "I doubt the credibility of anyone who is incarcerated."
Judge Collins said although Tillson's reputation had "undoubtedly suffered," and he can never again be employed by the criminal justice system, she needed to make an example for others in the same position of power.
"Community condemnation is of particular importance," Collins said. "I would hope others in a similar situation would be deterred by the same kinds of concerns, i.e., ending up in a position like this."
Melanie Plenda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.