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April 24, 2014

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Nye hit with sex lawsuit

Three Tonopah women who claim they were sexually battered by Nye County's former manager sued the rural county's leaders for failing to prevent the alleged harassment.

The women and their spouses filed multimillion-dollar federal civil rights lawsuits Friday against former County Manager Bill Offutt, commissioners and former Deputy District Attorney Rachel Nicholson.

Allegations of the women's physical and emotional pain range from bruises and sleeplessness to stalking and sexual attacks. Offutt, fired without cause in March, could not be reached for comment because his whereabouts were unknown.

The couples and their attorney, John Keating of California, said county officials were aware, or should have been aware, that there was a history of sexual harassment in Offutt's employment record.

Despite such knowledge, Commissioners Dick Carver, Ira Copass, Cameron McRae and W. Wayne Perkins did not implement a sexual harassment policy until after Offutt was fired, the lawsuits alleged.

The women, Janet Slay, Mary Alice Gable and Geniel Shrum, reported directly to Offutt, who supervised the county government and Tonopah's Regional Medical Center.

Gable was Offutt's assistant and Shrum was his secretary when the alleged harassment and battery occurred, and they remain public employees, the lawsuit said. Slay was forced to resign as clinic director at the medical center as a result of the harassment, the suit alleged.

Keating said Monday that he hoped county officials would "do the right thing" and settle the lawsuits and implement a harassment policy.

The three suits each seek $6 million in punitive damages, a figure that would heavily burden the money-strapped county if it lost. The lawyer said the amount is necessary to show small government administrations that such behavior is not tolerated.

Nye County District Attorney Bob Beckett declined to comment Tuesday on the allegations, explaining that it is his office's policy to not discuss pending litigation.

Some of the civil lawsuits' allegations could be considered felonies, but criminal charges have not been filed and the sheriff's office did not return a telephone call.

In the suit brought by Slay and her husband, Robert, the former medical director accused Offutt of stepping on her broken foot and rebreaking it, stalking her, sexually attacking her and attempting to insert foreign objects in her vagina and in between her buttocks.

Offutt is accused of threatening to fire Slay if she reported the incidents, "even on one occasion stating that 'it would be unfortunate' if Slay's husband ... a sheriff's deputy, (was) killed in the line of duty."

Gable's and Shrum's lawsuits do not detail such brutal allegations of sexual battery, though the women said that Offutt's touching of their thighs, buttocks, hips and breasts left bruises.

The women alleged that the sexual harassment and intimidation was reported to Deputy District Attorney Nicholson, who is accused of promising action but did nothing.

In September, Nicholson was fired as a county prosecutor, but a week later was rehired as a special assistant to the county manager, now Les Bradshaw. The hiring was made despite objections from the district attorney.

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