ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A jury on Monday ordered Allvest Inc. to pay more than $1 million in punitive damages to five women who were sexually harassed and assaulted by a guard at a halfway house operated by the company.
The jury found Allvest guilty of negligence in the hiring, screening, training and supervising of J.C. Lewis Jr., who was employed by Allvest at the Cordova Center in Anchorage when the attacks occurred in 1995 and 1996.
Lewis was sentenced in 1997 to 2 1/2 years in prison after pleading no contest to a charge of coercion for having nonconsensual sex or sexual contact with six women at the Cordova Center. He also pleaded no contest to a charge of official misconduct. Lewis remains on probation.
Anchorage-based Allvest was bought in 1998 by Cornell Corrections Inc. of Houston, Texas.
The five women filed a lawsuit against Allvest and against the state Department of Corrections for allegedly failing to keep them safe and to hire competent workers.
''There was no record that Allvest checked any references,'' said Les Syren, a lawyer for the women.
The state settled the case earlier this month, agreeing to pay a total of $45,000 to the five women, Syren said.
In addition to the $200,000 in punitive damages awarded to each of the women, the jury of seven women and five men also were awarded compensatory damages to the victims ranging from $10,000 to $25,000.
''It's a happy day for them to be vindicated and have somebody say 'we believe you. It did happen,''' Syren. ''But it's not over for them. The things that they suffered will continue throughout their lives.''
Allvest has not yet decided if it will appeal the verdict, said Martin Farrell, a lawyer for Allvest. Farrell said the company's actions make clear it was not negligent.
''The moment Allvest was notified of any misdeeds it began an investigation, terminated Mr. Lewis and brought in Alaska State Troopers,'' Farrell said.
The trial before state Superior Court Judge Rene Gonzales lasted two weeks. The Anchorage jury began its deliberations Friday and met through the weekend before reaching its verdict Monday.
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