A Republican district attorney in Pennsylvania who styled himself as a tough-on-crime prosecutor—while refusing to pursue charges against anyone cited for disregarding state mask mandates—now stands accused of violently raping a female acquaintance in her own home, according to Pennsylvania State Police.
Somerset County DA Jeffrey Lynn Thomas, 36, allegedly attacked the unidentified woman on Sept. 18, having first contacted her on Snapchat to say he’d be coming over in a few minutes, according to police. A criminal complaint obtained by the Somerset County, Pennsylvania Tribune-Democrat states that the woman knew Thomas in a professional capacity and that she had for years rebuffed his persistent sexual advances.
Thomas sent the Snapchat message at around 11 p.m. last Saturday, the complaint explains. She replied that he was not welcome there, and to please stay away. Soon after, Thomas walked into the woman’s home with an armload of beer cans and handed her one, according to cops.
The woman asked Thomas to leave, but he reportedly refused and became “agitated.” After she slapped him, Thomas hit her in the face and gave her a nosebleed, the complaint states.
After the woman told Thomas again to leave, he pulled down her top, undressed himself, and raped her, according to a press release issued by the State Police.
“During the assault, Thomas grabbed her by the neck making it hard to breath [sic],” the complaint alleges.
The woman’s child was home during the attack, police said. Thomas finally left, but only after the woman promised him she wouldn’t report him to the police, according to investigators. She reported the rape to Pennsylvania State Police on Monday.
Thomas’ alleged victim told investigators that she and Thomas had smoked marijuana together prior to the attack, but the complaint did not specify whether this meant the night in question or some other time in the past. Recreational marijuana remains illegal in Pennsylvania.
On Tuesday, detectives searched the woman’s home and found beer cans along with the clothing she had been wearing at the time of the alleged attack. Thomas was booked into the county jail shortly after 8 p.m. on Wednesday. In addition to rape, he was charged with indecent assault, strangulation, simple assault, and criminal trespass. He was “unable to post” bail of $5,000, according to court records, which Thomas’ lawyer said Thursday is no longer an issue.
“Right now, as far as comments go, I’m very limited as to what I can say,” defense attorney Ryan Tutera, told The Daily Beast. “He is going to be released from jail shortly. He’s entitled to having his day in court. We deny any allegations made against him, and we’re prepared to meet his accuser. I’d ask the public to withhold any negative judgment against him. He’s entitled to fairness and due process, and that’s all we can ask.”
In a statement released after Thomas’ arrest, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said, “The charges this defendant is facing for a violent attack are deeply disturbing. Mr. Thomas is entrusted by the public to uphold the law and serve as a voice for victims. I commend the bravery of the victim that has come forward—that is never an easy thing to do, especially when your abuser is a powerful elected official. Today is a reminder that no one is above the law.”
The Somerset County Board of Commissioners said it “is aware of the recent arrest of Jeffrey Thomas and the serious charges pending against him. As this is a criminal matter to proceed through the courts, the commissioners have no substantive comment to offer at this time.”
Thomas was elected in 2019 with 60 percent of the vote and took office in January 2020. He unseated incumbent DA Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser, a Democrat.
“I am a veteran, lifelong resident, & father,” Thomas wrote on his campaign website. “I will work to stop the drug epidemic that has destroyed the lives of too many of our citizens.”
Thomas’ arrest marks the third time in two years he has found himself in hot water.
In September 2020, maintenance staff found empty beer cans in Thomas’ office, a violation of Somerset County’s Drug and Alcohol Free Workplace Policy.
“We had a celebratory beer, which is something, apparently, is a tradition when I took over,” he told the Somerset County, Pennsylvania Daily American at the time. “The way it was conveyed to me is, it was a tradition in the DA’s office for a long time.”
A month later, police cited Thomas for disorderly conduct and harassment after he became enraged over a botched pizza delivery for his 5-year-old daughter’s birthday party. According to charging documents, Thomas caused “a hazardous and physically offensive condition using obscene language.”
“Like any dad who sees his 5-year-old daughter upset, I got upset,” he told PennLive.com. “At this point, I am an elected official—I get it, I have a target on my back. But I am a dad first. I got upset and said some things I shouldn’t have said.” Charges were withdrawn in Feb. 2021 after Thomas apologized. “In electing Thomas, it seems what residents of Somerset County got was an immature and reckless individual who is not fit to represent the county in the courtroom or in the community,” said an editorial in the Johnstown, Pennsylvania Tribune-Democrat shortly after the pizza incident.
Thomas is not the first Pennsylvania DA to be hit with sex assault charges in recent months. Earlier this year, Bradford County District Attorney Chad Michael Salsman, 44, was accused of sexually assaulting at least five female clients when he worked as a defense attorney prior to taking office in Jan. 2020. Salsman traded legal services for sex, and he demanded nude photographs of his victims, according to prosecutors. Salsman, who is also a Republican, was charged with sexual assault, indecent assault, witness intimidation, obstruction of justice, and promoting prostitution. He resigned in May.
Thomas is due back in court next Wednesday at 11 a.m.