Former corrections deputy arraigned on sexual misconduct charges

PORT ANGELES — Howard Andrew Blair, a former Clallam County corrections deputy who is accused of having sexual contact with female inmates, has pleaded not guilty to four counts of custodial sexual misconduct.

The 55-year-old Port Angeles man is charged with one count of first-degree custodial sexual misconduct, a Class C felony, and three counts of second-degree custodial sexual misconduct, which are gross misdemeanors. He was arraigned Friday.

A three-day trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 24 in Clallam County Superior Court.

Blair is charged with having sexual contact with four inmates while he was working in the Clallam County jail between January 2017 and September 2017, court papers said.

The allegations surfaced last Sept. 24 when one inmate told authorities that Blair had touched her inappropriately when she was retrieving a breakfast tray.

Blair was placed on administrative leave two days later. He resigned in lieu of termination Dec. 22, Sheriff Bill Benedict has said.

Sheriff’s Detective Joshua Ley determined that Blair had inappropriately touched eight women while he was on duty. Four of those women agreed to cooperate with investigators.

Ley spent several months interviewing current and former inmates and found no evidence that any other employee was involved, Benedict has said.

Blair, who is not in custody, was ordered to reappear in court for a status hearing Aug. 30.

The felony charge stems from alleged sexual contact that Blair had with a former inmate who is now serving a prison sentence at the Washington Corrections Center for Women.

The woman told a mental health counselor Feb. 20 that she and Blair had had consensual sexual relations over a six-month period while she was incarcerated in Clallam County.

Under the law, an inmate is not able to give consent.

The case against Blair is being prosecuted by Grays Harbor County Prosecuting Attorney Katie Svoboda. Svoboda was contracted as a special deputy prosecutor to avoid conflicts of interest among Clallam County officials.

Blair is represented by Sequim attorney Lawrence Freedman.

Svoboda filed amended charging papers Friday to clarify that the second-degree custodial sexual misconduct counts are gross misdemeanors rather than felonies.

Clallam County Superior Court Judge Erik Rohrer signed the amended criminal information and granted Freedman’s request to allow Blair to possess firearms as part of his conditions of release.

Blair is a firearms instructor.

“He continues to train people, and that is part of his day to day living,” Freedman said.

Blair joined the Sheriff’s Office in January 2007 shortly after Benedict was elected as sheriff.

Benedict, who attended Blair’s arraignment Friday, is running against former detective Jim McLaughlin in the November election.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected]