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Oregon Jail Guard Canned for Repeated Gross Negligence

Luck ran out for Oregon jail guard Judith Lucke, on January 2012, when the Oregon Court of Appeals upheld her termination for "gross negligence."

Lucke's six year career as a jail guard for the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office was a comedy of errors and bad judgment. In December 2003, for example, Lucke unshackled a hospitalized prisoner's leg and turned her back to give him some privacy to get dressed. He thanked her by escaping with her jail radio, cellphone and personal bag, according to an arbitrator's 2008 findings. In June 2005, Lucke called for help, rather than assisting a fellow guard who struggled with an intoxicated prisoner at the jail's booking counter, the arbitrator found. She also failed to respond to a January 2006 call for help to break up a fight between two prisoners.

In all, the arbitrator found that each of five incidents that Lucke had received sanctions, ranging from reprimand to suspension without pay, "involved gross negligence." The final straw came, however, on January 23, 2007, when Lucke went home, leaving her loaded firearm on a bench in an unlocked women's locker room at the Inverness Jail in Portland.

A prisoner janitorial crew cleaned the locker room daily and "female deputies, civilian staff, contractors, volunteers," and family of employees all had access to the locker room, the arbitrator found.

A supervisor found the gun about eight hours later and an investigation determined that it belonged to Lucke. In June 2007, the Sheriff’s Office terminated Lucke for the incident and in October 2007, the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST) initiated proceedings to revoke "her corrections certificates based on a finding that she had 'been discharged for cause from employment as a public safety officer.'" That proceeding was held in abeyance, however, while Lucke grieved her termination.

In 2008, an arbitration decision denied Lucke's grievance, upholding her dismissal for "just cause" and the guard union stopped funding Lucke's DPSST defense.

Ultimately, DPSST terminated Lucke's law enforcement certification, concluding "that each of the five previous incidents had involved gross negligence" and that Lucke "engaged in gross negligence by leaving a firearm unsecured in an area accessed by non-authorized persons and inmates… Her conduct demonstrated poor judgment and placed innocent lives at stake."

Lucke argued that six other sheriffs employees who left their guns in inappropriate places were not fired. Two of those deputies had their firearms stolen from their vehicles. Unlike Lucke, however, most of those cases involved employees who did not have histories of disciplinary problems. The Court of Appeals rejected Lucke's argument, finding that "the arbitrator explained at length why those 'incidents are not substantially similar to the circumstances of this case.” Additionally, "it is not DPSST's function to second-guess the employer's termination decision."

The court affirmed DPSST's decision, concluding "that substantial evidence and substantial reason support DPSST's decision." Lucke and her attorney, Thomas K. Doyle, declined to comment. See: Lucke v. DPSST, 247 Or App 630, 270 P. 3d 251 (2012).

Source: The Oregonian

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Related legal case

Lucke v. DPSST