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Pennsylvania Jail Mired in Scandal ... Again

by David M. Reutter

With the suspension of two top officials at the Monroe County Correctional Facility (MCCF) in Snydersville, Pennsylvania, efforts to turn the jail around have hit yet another stumbling block. The February 27, 2009 suspensions – and later resignations – of Warden David Mauro and Captain Owen Thomas created a vacuum in the MCCF administration that remains unfilled more than six months later. As PLN has previously reported, the jail has been plagued by scandal, including contraband smuggling and sexual misconduct by staff. [See: PLN, Dec. 2007, p.1].

The suspensions of Mauro and Thomas without pay were apparently based on a new zero-tolerance policy by the Monroe County Prison Board, which ordered the suspensions. That order was accompanied by a directive to investigate a February 26, 2009 conversation between Mauro and Thomas in the MCCF lunchroom.

Thomas reportedly made a disparaging remark to Mauro about a guard at the facility, stating “what a waste of a uniform.” Another guard overheard the comment. Afterwards, Thomas engaged in “damage control” discussions with several employees and warned the guard who overheard the remark not to repeat it. Mauro failed to intervene, and the Prison Board ordered the suspensions the next day.

MCCF has been mired in scandal since 2006. At that time, six guards were under investigation for having sex with or providing contraband to prisoners. In March 2007, former guards Mark Gutshall, Richard Chilmaza, Frank Bell, Yvonne Lockard, Roodney Ulysse and Dana T. Simpson, Sr. were indicted. Kitchen worker Misty Marie Mate also was charged. In June 2007, guard Karen E. Stone was charged with nine counts of giving contraband to prisoners.

Mate pleaded guilty in June 2007 to smuggling contraband. In October 2007, Ulysse, Lockard and Stone all pleaded guilty to delivering contraband to prisoners, and received one-year probation sentences. Simpson pleaded guilty to having sex with prisoners in November 2007. Gutshall received 23 months in prison in December 2007 after pleading guilty to institutional sexual assault against a prisoner. [See: PLN, May 2009, p.1]. Finally, in January 2008, Bell pleaded guilty to a contraband charge.

At least two prisoners have filed suit claiming they were sexually harassed and abused by MCCF guards, and that the Prison Board had a policy of “inadequately and improperly investigat[ing] complaints of correction officer misconduct ....” See: Knight v. Simpson, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Penn.), Case No. 3:08-cv-00495-RPC-MCC, and Scindo v. Simpson, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Penn.), Case No. 1:08-cv-01332-YK-LQ.

The sex and contraband scandal at MCCF resulted in a 41-page report by The Moss Group, which was funded by the National Institute of Corrections, an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice. The report was made public in May 2008.

“Until quite recently, there were no policies, procedures, or training related to staff sexual misconduct and staff was unaware of the 2003 legislation, the Prison Rape Elimination Act,” the report stated. “There was no clear ‘zero tolerance’ message communicated by the Board, the warden, or the leadership team. Staff described relationships between staff that cross professional boundaries and result in inappropriate interactions. There has apparently been a great deal of off-duty socializing, which at times has included former inmates.”

The Moss Group report recommended the addition of more supervisory positions at MCCF, promoting more women and minority employees, improved grievance filing procedures for prisoners, and more formalized expectations of guard conduct with prisoners. One of the steps taken following the issuance of the report was to install a $125,000 video surveillance system at MCCF.

Warden Mauro had been at odds with the Prison Board before his suspension. On December 30, 2008, prisoner Thurman Stanley walked away from a court-ordered work-release assignment. The Board was not informed of the escape, learning about it only after the incident was reported in a local newspaper.

The task of turning MCCF around has been tough on its wardens. In May 2007, longtime warden David Keenhold resigned. He was replaced by interim warden David Kessling, on loan from the Penn. Dept. of Corrections. Warden Marlene Chamblee was hired in January 2008 but stepped down after only seven months on the job.

The Prison Board announced on March 11, 2009 that both Mauro and Thomas had resigned, effective as of the date of their suspensions. MCCF has now gone through four wardens in two years. Additionally, in January 2008, MCCF Captain John Corridoni was fired less than two weeks after being hired as third-in-command at the jail, when it was learned that he previously had been accused of assaulting prisoners at the Luzerne County Prison. And in March 2008, MCCF deputy warden Daniel B. Slashinski resigned amid an investigation into whether a prisoner’s outgoing legal mail had been intentionally blocked or delayed.

Problems at MCCF continued following the resignations of Mauro and Thomas. Jail guard Jesse Cleare was suspended without pay after prisoner Mumun M. Barbaros committed suicide on March 22, 2009. Officials were investigating whether Cleare made required rounds in the unit where Barbaros choked himself with a T-shirt less than a week after he was denied his prescription for Paxil, an antidepressant. Cleare was later fired.
Another MCCF guard, Michael John Parrish, was charged in July 2009 with killing his girlfriend and their infant son; he reportedly had racist, pro-Nazi beliefs. As a result, the Prison Board stated it would more closely screen job applicants at MCCF.

In June 2009, Monroe County Commissioner Donna Asure took over administrative duties at MCCF until a permanent replacement warden could be found. Three months later, the Prison Board was still looking. Asure has since applied to fill the warden position herself, despite having no prior experience in corrections. The warden position pays $3,000 more per year than she makes as a Commissioner.

Source: The Pocono Record

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Related legal cases

Knight v. Simpson

Scindo v. Simpson