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Massachusetts Guard Accused of Throwing Feces Entitled to Workman’s Compensation

Massachusetts Guard Accused of Throwing Feces Entitled to Workman's Compensation

A former Massachusetts prison guard accused of putting feces in a prisoner's cell is entitled to workman's compensation for emotional distress, the state Department of Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board held on June 20, 2007.

In March 2002, high-profile prisoner John Geoghan, a former priest convicted of sexually abusing children, discovered feces in his cell in the protective custody unit of the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Concord. Geoghan accused guard Cosmo Bisazza of placing it there. An internal investigation concluded that Geoghan's allegations were unsubstantiated.

Geoghan had good reason to suspect Bisazza. While imprisoned at MCI-Concord, Geoghan received 15 disciplinary cases -- more than any other prisoner confined at the facility during that time. Eight of the cases had been written by Bisazza, which represented 40 percent of all the disciplinary cases that Bisazza had issued.

In addition, most of the cases Bisazza wrote against Geoghan were bogus, prompting disciplinary hearing officer Sergeant Sheridan to characterize them as being minor in nature, bad reports, or just "flat crap."

In April 2003, as a result of the repeated disciplinary actions, Geoghan was transferred to a maximum security prison in Shirley, where four months later he was brutally killed by another prisoner. [See: PLN, Nov. 2004, p.1]

Following Geoghan's murder, prisoners at MCI-Concord threatened to inform the media about Bisazza's harassment of Geoghan. Within days, newspaper articles began reporting that unnamed guards had tortured Geoghan while he was imprisoned in Concord and had thrown feces in his cell; later reports named Bisazza as one of the guards involved.

Bisazza quit his job, claiming that the negative publicity caused him emotional distress which prevented him from sleeping or eating, and resulted in stomach pains. A psychiatrist testified that Bisazza suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In a case of first impression, the Department of Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board held that Bisazza was entitled to workman's compensation for his emotional injuries because the alleged cause -- the negative publicity about his job performance (i.e., his harassment of Geoghan at MCI-Concord) -- was a direct result of events that took place while he was working at the prison.

"If the negative publicity can be traced back to the actual workplace, then the bottom line now is that they're going to have a compensable case," said Louis C. de Benedictis of Boston, who represented Bisazza.

It should be noted that prisoners who throw feces and urine are often charged with felony assault and receive stiff sentences of up to life in prison. See: Bisazza v. MCI Concord, Mass. Dept. of Industrial Accidents, Board No. 030300-03. The Board?s ruling is on the PLN website.

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