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Former Oregon Prison Guard, Accused of Contraband Smuggling and Sexual Misconduct, Files Suit Alleging Racism
William Coleman began working as a guard at the Oregon State Penitentiary (OSP), a maximum-security prison, on January 18, 2005, but resigned in September 2007.
He was subsequently hired by OSH as a mental health security technician; however, he was terminated following a November 24, 2008 incident involving co-worker Gregory Charles. The two men, whose duties included patrolling OSH grounds, drove to an adjacent cemetery and parked. They said they were watching “a suspicious man” riding a bicycle, but the bicyclist, who was the cemetery gatekeeper, reported they were having sex in the vehicle. Police arrived and questioned Charles and Coleman, then called their supervisors.
Coleman was immediately fired. Charles, who had been an OSH employee since November 2006, was placed on leave before being terminated on March 20, 2009. Both flatly denied claims that they were engaging in oral sex.
They filed suit, alleging racial discrimination, defamation and wrongful termination. “Patients at OSH have been overheard to joke that there are job openings in security and there are oral interviews in the back of state vehicles,” Coleman alleged in his lawsuit.
Salem attorney Kevin Lafky, who represents both men, called the alleged sexual tryst in the cemetery ludicrous. “We’ve got evidence that many other employees would go outside the state hospital grounds, including the cemetery when doing their security rounds,” said Lafky. “Yet these gentlemen, who happen to be black, are the ones who are fired for it.”
“I refer to this case as the case of visiting the cemetery while black,” Lafky remarked. “It seems to be the reason these gentlemen got fired.” OSH officials referred inquiries to the Oregon Department of Justice, which declined to comment citing the pending litigation.
Meanwhile, in June 2009, a grand jury indicted Coleman on a dozen counts of supplying contraband and three counts of receiving bribes when he worked at OSP. Between October 2006 and May 2007, Coleman allegedly smuggled tobacco and creatine, a muscle-building supplement, into the prison in exchange for cash payments made “directly or indirectly” by prisoners, according to Marion County deputy district attorney Bryan Orrio.
Declining to specify a total dollar amount, Orrio estimated that Coleman may have received “less than a hundred grand but more than $5,000.” He declined to go into detail, explaining, “with prison cases, in my experience, they’re the most susceptible to going down the toilet because the inmates are so good at manipulating witnesses and getting information through the grapevine, so I’m pretty tight-lipped about this case.”
Coleman was arrested, booked into jail and then released on his own recognizance. “It’s an interesting coincidence that they charge him with a crime for something that supposedly happened years ago just as he’s suing the state,” Lafky noted.
Coleman’s wrongful termination lawsuit claims his reputation has been smeared. “Since the incident at the cemetery, OSH staff, acting in the course and scope of their employment, have published this false information to other staff members, patients at the hospital, and staff at the Oregon State Penitentiary,” his complaint states.
As a result, Coleman alleged he has suffered emotional distress as well as health problems that include headaches, chest pains, dizziness, fright, grief, shame, humiliation, embarrassment, anger, disappointment and worry. Charles has cited similar injuries, and said his wife divorced him due to the sexual misconduct allegations.
Coleman was found not guilty of the contraband and bribery charges following a state court jury trial in April 2010. His discrimination suit remains pending. Charles was reinstated to his security job at OSH in November 2009; however, he said he “continues to be subjected to taunts and ridicule by coworkers and patients.”
Sources: Statesman Journal, www.salem-news.com
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