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Washington Prison Staff Properly Fired For Sexually Assaulting Prisoner

Division 2 of the Washington State Court of Appeals (Div. 2) has affirmed the summary dismissal of a prison guards law-suit for wrongful discharge for sexual misconduct.

James Shinn was captain of a ferry serving the McNeil Island Correction Center (MICC). In March of 2000, an MICC ser-geant accused him of giving contraband to Erin Turner, a female prisoner who worked on the ferry, in exchange for sex. Turner confirmed that Shinn had made inappropriate advances toward her.

On April 6, James Cooper, an MICC investigator, interviewed Shinn. Without allowing Shinns union representative to speak on Shinns behalf, Cooper placed Shinn on administra-tive leave.

On April 18, John Little, Shinns supervisor, generated an Employee Conduct Report (ECR) condemning Shinns conduct. Shinn received a copy of the ECR.
In May of 2000, Shinn was prosecuted for attempted custo-dial sexual misconduct. However, he was acquitted at trial.

On May 26, MICC Superintendent Alice Payne met with Shinn to discuss the ECR. On June 8 Payne formally found that Shinn was guilty of sexual misconduct and stated that disciplinary action would follow. On July 5 Payne notified Shinn by letter of a July 12 hearing to discuss his dismissal. Shinn did not attend the hearing. He was notified by letter that his discharge would take effect on August 19, 2000.

Shinn sued the state, Payne, Cooper and Turner for violat-ing his civil rights, wrongful discharge, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligence and malicious prosecution. The Pierce County Superior Court dismissed all but the malicious prosecution claims, and Shinn appealed.
The civil rights claim was based on Shinns claim that he did not receive adequate notice of the charges against him before being fired. The court found that the ECR and Paynes July 5 letter notifying him of the July 12 termination hearing sat-isfied any notification requirements, thus, that Shinn received all process due.

The court found that the wrongful discharge claim presented no real legal issues. Thus, the court found that issue to have been properly dismissed by the trial court.

The negligent infliction of emotional distress claim was also found to have been properly dismissed because the defen-dants owed no duty to Shinn, thus could not have violated any such duty.

Based on the above findings, Div. 2 affirmed the trial courts partial dismissal of the case and dismissed the appeal. The decision is unpublished. See: Shinn v. Payne, 2004 Wash. App. LEXIS 2992.

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Related legal case

Shinn v. Payne