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Correctional Deputy’s Termination Upheld Due To Misconduct And Dishonesty
In June 2019, a correctional deputy with a sheriff’s department (Department) searched a prison inmate’s cell after the inmate was disrespectful towards the deputy. During the search, the inmate’s commissary and food items were damaged, with some of his items were strewn outside of the cell. The correctional deputy did not prepare a cell search log or activity report.
After the cell search, the correctional deputy allegedly announced over the prison loudspeaker that dayroom privileges – a set number of hours when inmates are allowed to socialize, take a shower, and make telephone calls – were suspended for the entire cellblock. According to the inmate, the correctional deputy announced that the inmate whose cell was searched was to blame for the suspension of dayroom privileges, which caused other inmates to attack the inmate.
In responding to the attack, the correctional deputy handcuffed only the attacked inmate. The correctional deputy also did not give the involved inmates Miranda Warnings or interview them. The deputy also closed the incident file without a report, despite being assigned to do so.
The injured inmate then submitted a grievance and a letter to the grand jury. The inmate alleged the correctional deputy orchestrated an attack on him and destroyed his personal property during the cell search. A subsequent investigation found that the correctional deputy violated several of the Department’s General Orders, including dishonestly stating that he Mirandized inmates, interviewed inmates, and prepared a written report following the incident. The deputy told the investigator that he merely forgot to submit the written report, and thereafter submitted a report that was poorly written and appeared to be a “cut and paste” job. Based on the investigation findings, the correctional deputy was terminated.
The correctional deputy appealed his termination, alleging that he searched the inmate’s cell for potential contraband, such as drugs or alcohol, given the inmate’s disrespectful behavior. The hearing officer found, however, that the weight of the evidence showed that the correctional deputy searched the inmate’s cell strictly in response to the inmate’s disrespectful conduct. The hearing officer cited the correctional deputy’s hearing testimony that there was no evidence that the inmate was under the influence of drugs or alcohol before or after the cell search. The hearing officer further found that the search was not conducted properly or professionally given the destruction of the inmate’s property and the correctional deputy’s failure to prepare a cell search log or activity report documenting the search. The hearing officer determined that the correctional deputy’s conduct violated the Department’s General Orders and provisions of the applicable memorandum of understanding (MOU) regarding incompetence, inefficiency, negligence, and conduct unbecoming of a custodial deputy.
The correctional deputy further alleged that evidence did not show that he orchestrated the assault and battery of the inmate. The hearing officer agreed and found that there was conflicting evidence regarding whether the correctional deputy identified the inmate over the cellblock loudspeaker. However, the hearing officer found that the deputy’s failure to handcuff all inmates involved in the battery violated the Department’s General Orders and MOU provisions.
Lastly, the hearing officer found that the correctional deputy failed to properly investigate the assault, including failing to Mirandize or interview the inmates involved; failed to prepare an incident report; and was dishonest regarding his investigation of the incident. The hearing officer noted that credibility and honesty are essential traits of a custodial deputy, and that breach of trust is sufficient to terminate the employment of even a long-term deputy with no record of prior discipline.
This case is another in a long line of cases that finds that termination is an appropriate penalty for peace officer and/or custodial deputy dishonesty due to the position of trust they hold with the communities they serve. Fire safety officers maintain a position of trust with the public and are held to similarly high standards of conduct.