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Washington State Must Rehire 3 Guards Fired for Complacency

An arbitrator ordered the state of Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC) to rehire three guards fired on the heels of a guard’s murder. The arbitrator’s ruling found that “widespread… complacency” existed at the Monroe correctional Complex (MCC), which “cautioned” against singling out complacent front-line guards.

In 2011, guard Jayme Biendl was strangled to death in MCC’s Chapel by prisoner Byron Scherf, a convicted rapist already serving a life sentence. Scherf admitted he had been seeking an opportunity to ambush Biendl, and he went outside the chapel to close the outer gate, knowing the guard posted there likely wouldn’t be there, and returned to kill Biendl.

The investigation that followed her murder compelled WDOC to take disciplinary action. It fired three guards and demoted a sergeant.

“We took disciplinary action because of the serious nature of the staff member’s actions – including falsifying documents and lying to police investigators – which does not accurately reflect the professionalism of our staff,” said WDOC spokesman Chad Lewis. “We can only be an effective agency if we hold ourselves accountable for our actions, which we did in this case.”

Lewis admitted complacency was a problem at MCC before Biendl’s murder. The arbitrator found that the guard who left his post was not properly supervised and rules about remaining at his post were not consistently enforced. Complacency by guards caused them to overlook the constant potential for violence posed by prisoners, wrote the arbitrator.

That the guards had been dishonest the night of the murder was not fully accepted by the arbitrator. He said that sloppiness and inattention to detail could account for some discrepancies in their reports, as well as poor job performance and bad supervisory practices. Multiple supervisors held the guards to different standards.

The absence of a history of discipline was inadequate to support the termination of the guards. “While the consequences of that complacency are painfully clear in retrospect, the fact that it was widespread before the murder cautions strongly against singling out one complacent front-line officer for substantially more significant discipline than others when something goes wrong, as it did here,” wrote the arbitrator.

While the three guards were ordered to be re-hired with back pay, the arbitrator noted the guard who left his post demonstrated “no humility and insufficient acceptance of person responsibility.”

As for the demoted sergeant, the arbitrator found he was likely overwhelmed with his duties and too busy with paperwork to discipline a complacent guard.

After several investigative reviews, numerous safety problems were found at MCC and changed. Amongst them are more training, adding security advisory committees, and more staff at peak prisoner movement times, tighter screening of prisoner classification and job assignments, and a reduced population at MCC.

Scherf was convicted of Biendl’s murder and sentenced to death in May 2013.



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