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Last Update: August 5, 2008 5:32 AM

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A former correctional officer at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center faces a sexual assault charge stemming from a relationship he had with a female inmate, state prosecutors say.

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Jackie Osborne, 47, is accused of having an ongoing relationship with an inmate and was caught in September when he left a love note in a desk drawer after he went off duty, according to documents filed by prosecutors in Anchorage Superior Court on Wednesday.

It's a felony in Alaska for a jail employee to have sex with an inmate. The offense is punishable by up to five years in prison.

A grand jury on Wednesday indicted Osborne on a charge of third-degree sexual assault and evidence tampering.

"Osborne's crimes are serious. They strike at the heart of the public trust placed in corrections officers," prosecutor James Fayette wrote in court documents. "The public and the Superior Court should regard a crime committed by a peace officer to be atypical -- and to be handled in a manner that reflects legitimate public outrage and legitimate public condemnation."

Osborne, who is married, worked as a correctional officer for seven years before his resignation in October, shortly after Alaska State Troopers began an investigation.

The prison guard is accused of having a relationship for months with an inmate. They exchanged love letters and had phone conversations talking about their plans to get married, according to court documents.

The incidents for which Osborne is charged reportedly began in July and ended in September, when a love letter was accidentally left in a desk used by multiple prison guards. An officer working the shift after Osborne found the letter and turned it over to superiors.

The trooper investigation turned up taped telephone conversations between Osborne and the inmate at the prison during which the two professed their love for one another, according to the court documents.

The documents also say that another letter, written to Osborne from the inmate, was found in Osborne's locker. "This letter clearly implied a personal, intimate relationship," the documents say.

The inmate is a 39-year-old serving a six-year sentence for a 2004 felony embezzlement conviction.

The victim said in an earlier interview that she felt coerced into the relationship with Osborne because he had control over her prison life. "I'm an inmate. He's a correctional officer. If I told anyone, who were they going to believe?" she said, wiping away tears during the interview in a visitors' room at Hiland.

She said Osborne often worked the night shift and would come into her room after midnight. The last encounter with him occurred in late September. The guard approached her while she was alone practicing for the prison orchestra in a classroom, and the two had sex in an office, the victim said.

The victim said when the relationship was discovered she was punished with two months in solitary confinement and has been subjected to other retaliations, including not being allowed access to the rehabilitative classes. She has hired a lawyer, Moshe Zorea, and plans to sue the Department of Corrections. "She has been worked over royally by the Department of Corrections," Zorea said Thursday.

Joe Schmidt, commissioner of the Department of Corrections, said he didn't know the specifics of the alleged victim's circumstances. But he said prisoners are put into segregation often for their own protection. "We put them into segregation not to punish them; that's to separate them and make sure they aren't getting hurt by anyone else. ... However, we can't leave folks that are alleging that they are in danger in open population because we could possibly be allowing that to continue."

Fayette, in a phone interview Thursday, described the relationship between the guard and the inmate as "basically rape."

"(In court documents), I don't talk about any overt threat or weapon or threat of injury because I don't need to. ... The element of coercion is assumed in the relationship between a jail guard and an inmate. This man has control over her movement, her life."

He could put her in punitive segregation, subject her to room searches, take away what little privileges she has as a prisoner, he said. He said it is akin to someone having sex with an incapacitated person.

Schmidt said, "These folks work in a very manipulative environment, and what's important to me is that the truth comes out and that we don't jump to any conclusions. We don't protect either side. We have to fully investigate what happened and what didn't happen."

"We take it very serious. We are going to look all the way to the bottom of it and find out what exactly happened and what didn't and then act accordingly. If it happened, it was illegal and it's a very serious matter."

A judge denied prosecutors' request for an immediate arrest. Instead, Osborne, who lives in Wasilla, is expected to show up for a court appearance Monday.

Hiland Mountain Correctional Center, on 60 acres in Eagle River near Anchorage, is the state's only prison for women and houses about 400 female inmates, mostly in dormitory-style cells. The prison has been lauded for its programs such as the prisoner orchestra and its work with the local animal control to rehabilitate dogs.

The charges against Osborne follow other cases involving allegations of sex between guards and inmates. In the summer of 2002, Hiland Mountain physicians assistant Clarence Bullock was charged with two counts of sexual assault. He was given three months in prison in a plea deal and lost his medical license. The victim in the case filed a lawsuit against Bullock and the Department of Corrections, which is scheduled for trial in October.

Daily News reporter Megan Holland can be reached at mrholland@adn.com.

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