Former Clallam County corrections deputy expected to plead guilty to amended complaint

Case stemmed from alleged sexual contact with inmates

Howard Blair

Howard Blair

PORT ANGELES — A former Clallam County corrections deputy charged with having illegal sexual contact with four county jail inmates is expected to plead guilty Wednesday to a lesser charge or charges in the case.

Howard Andrew Blair, 55, had pleaded not guilty to one count of first-degree sexual misconduct and three counts of second-degree custodial misconduct, which could have netted him up to 20 years in prison and $40,000 in fines.

Blair’s change-of-plea hearing and sentencing hearing are at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in county Superior Court.

“There will be a change in plea from not guilty to guilty, and it will be an amended complaint,” Blair’s lawyer, Larry Freedman of Port Angeles, said Thursday following a county Superior Court hearing on the case.

Freedman would not comment on if he will recommend that Blair should be incarcerated as part of a plea deal to a lesser charge or charges.

Grays Harbor Prosecuting Attorney Katie Svoboda, who is prosecuting the case on a conflict-of-interest basis for the Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, said she is recommending incarceration but would not give further details.

Blair, a Port Angeles resident, is accused of having sexual contact at least 19 times with the four women between January and September 2017, according to the probable cause statement.

It included sexual intercourse with the alleged victim in the first-degree sexual misconduct charge.

Blair allegedly exchanged sexually explicit letters with the woman after she was transferred to the Washington Corrections Center for Women at Purdy, according to court records.

A second-degree misconduct charge against Blair involved a woman Blair allegedly groped.

The woman also said she disrobed five separate times for Blair, including at his request to obtain extra clothing.

The woman said she and other inmates saw Blair visiting the cell of the woman who was the alleged victim in the first-degree sexual misconduct charge for 15 minutes at a time.

Other allegations include Blair smacking inmates’ buttocks, which was allegedly witnessed by other inmates; pulling one woman’s hand to his crotch, and making lewd comments.

Eight women had made sexual misconduct allegations against Blair, according to court records.

Alleged actions against four of the eight resulted in charges, Svoboda said.

Freedman did not offer any “counter suggestions” regarding Blair’s sentence, she said.

Svoboda would not comment on her sentencing recommendation.

According to the criminal investigation, Blair is a divorcee, attends church, lives alone with a pet guinea pig and has children.

He served in the Marine Corps for eight years, specializing in artillery, and served in the Coast Guard for 16 years before becoming a corrections deputy in 2007.

An internal investigation by jail Administrative Sgt. Don Wenzl determined Blair had violated Sheriff’s Office policy on sexual abuse and sexual harassment between staff and inmates, according to a Dec. 5 notice to Blair from Undersheriff Ron Cameron.

Blair resigned effective Dec. 22, 2017, the day of a Sheriff’s Office pre-disciplinary hearing had been scheduled based on the determination that Blair had violated the Prison Rape Elimination Act with at least five inmates starting in May 2015 and should be terminated.

At the time of his resignation, Blair was a medical liaison officer at the jail and worked the graveyard shift, earning $4,950 a month and $59,400 a year.

He was arrested by eight law enforcement officers May 1, 2018, at his Port Angeles home, following a lengthy criminal investigation by the Sheriff’s Office spearheaded by Detective Josh Ley.

Evidence taken from Blair’s home included letters from the alleged victim sent from the women’s prison at Purdy.

It also included paint-smeared shoes that linked Blair to paint that allegedly spilled at the woman’s county jail cell while she was allegedly performing a sex act on Blair.

The felony sexual misconduct charges against Blair were filed June 4, 2018.

The criminal investigation began after an inmate said he grabbed her and made her touch his groin area, according to Ley’s report.

During his interview with Ley before charges were filed, Blair said “he did not trust female inmates” and did not go into the female “tanks” at the jail because “it’s just trouble.”

One inmate said Blair’s conduct was not reported “due to fear of being treated differently by jail staff or being placed into segregation [retaliation],” according to Ley’s report.

The inmates interviewed by Ley said no other corrections deputies treated them in the same sexual manner as Blair, according to Ley’s case report.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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