In January 2011, Lt. Vincent Schaffer, 45, then a unit manager in F Block at SCI-Pittsburgh, was approached by an internal affairs officer to gather dirt on a fellow guard who was later charged with 89 criminal counts, including sexual assault.
“I was uncomfortable with my involvement in assisting in a criminal investigation because that is not what I do,” Schaffer said in a 2012 interview.
However, he claimed his initial refusal would have been a violation of the code of ethics and that he risked disciplinary action if he failed to cooperate. Thus he ultimately complied, gathering information from a prison informant, and was subsequently terminated after 18 years with the Department of Corrections.
“I had a lot of pride in my job, and l gave the department 100% every day,” Schaffer said. “To believe that I was put in this position, and to even try to comprehend that the department and the commonwealth have flat-out turned their backs – I don’t even know the words.”
As a result of the investigation, former SCI-Pittsburgh guard Harry F. Nicoletti was charged with targeting sex offenders – most of them on F Block awaiting transfer to other prisons – for abuse and sexual assault. Six other guards were criminally charged, and the facility’s superintendent and three top managers were fired. [See: PLN, Nov. 2012, p.40; April 2012, p.1].
“Everyone below me got suspended,” Schaffer said. “Everyone above me got fired.”
What remains unclear is exactly why Schaffer was eventually terminated, and whether his firing was related to his position as unit manager over F Block or his assistance with the internal investigation.
Schaffer claimed that the demands of the investigation – including clandestine meetings with prisoner informant Casey Oliver – were so nerve-racking that he applied for workers’ compensation in June 2011, which was denied. He then used up all of his vacation time and sick leave, went on family and medical leave, and began receiving unemployment benefits.
After obtaining medical clearance in March 2012 to return to work – but not at SCI-Pittsburgh because it could exacerbate his symptoms – Schaffer said he was told by a corrections official to either “return to full-time, full-duty work ... with a release from the health care provider,” or retire or accept termination. Without a doctor’s release, Schaffer applied for disability retirement, was denied and then was terminated – indicating that prison employees who assist with criminal investigations are not immune from adverse outcomes.
Nicoletti was convicted of 27 charges, including official oppression, simple assault, criminal solicitation and terrorist threats, and sentenced in March 2013 to probation and six months of house arrest. [See: PLN, May 2013, p.12].
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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