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Cumberland correctional officer reinstated

December 11, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- A North Branch Correctional Institution lieutenant who was fired in April amid allegations of excessive force has been reinstated by an administrative law judge, and two officers who worked in a Hagerstown prison are awaiting decisions on their appeals, a union representative said Thursday.

Twenty-three officers were fired from Roxbury Correctional Institution, a medium-security prison south of Hagerstown, and North Branch, in April. An additional two Roxbury officers had been fired but were reinstated.

At least two injured inmates were involved in separate incidents that led to the excessive force allegations that led to the terminations, a prisons spokesman has said.

One Roxbury inmate was found injured during the weekend of March 8 and was hospitalized. Prison officials have said that incident might have been connected to a March 6 assault by inmates on officers.

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Subsequently, at least one inmate at North Branch, who had been at RCI, alleged he was a victim of excessive force, the spokesman said.

The administrative law judge ordered that the lieutenant be returned to work at the Cumberland prison, with full back pay and benefits, said Ron Smith, labor relations specialist for Maryland Classified Employees Association (MCEA). It was unclear when the officer would return to work, because the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has 30 days to appeal the decision, Smith said.

The decision was announced Wednesday, Smith said.

Two officers from the Roxbury Correctional Institution south of Hagerstown are awaiting decisions from their hearings, Smith said.

He was awaiting the decision from one hearing involving a RCI officer, and hearing for a second RCI officer was under way Thursday, he said.

During the hearing for the lieutenant who was reinstated, the evidence presented consisted mostly of inmates' allegations and "video recordings that did not disclose any evidence whatsoever of actions unbecoming of an officer," Smith said.

After their termination, the officers faced a multi-layer appeals process.

The officers first had their cases heard at the DPSCS level by a hearing officer and then had the opportunity to appeal their cases to the Office of Administrative Hearings, Smith has said. He represented the officers during the first two steps of the appeals process. An MCEA attorney handled the cases at the Office of Administrative Hearings level, he said.

"AFSCME expected this outcome, and we expect the officer to be put back to work immediately," said Joe Lawrence, spokesman for the American Federation of State, Municipal and County Employees.

AFSCME officials held a meeting with state delegates and senators April 16 in Hancock to discuss the firings of the correctional officers.

Following that meeting, Del. Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, objected to the mass firings in a letter to Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Gary D. Maynard. Writing on behalf of himself and Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, Kelly said "basic fairness dictates an employee is not terminated prior to the conclusion of an investigation," the Associated Press reported at the time.

In the letter, Kelly asked Maynard to consider reinstating the officers and either assigning them to jobs that don't require inmate contact or placing them on paid leave until the investigations are done.

"This is good news for the other officers who have been charged," Lawrence said Thursday. "When they are cleared of all charges, we expect them to be put back to work as well."

Department of Public Safety and Correctional spokesman Rick Binetti said his department was informed of the decision Thursday morning.

The decision is under review, and prison officials had not yet decided whether to appeal, Binetti said.

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