Both sides see positives in Shirley prison arbitration

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SHIRLEY — Two corrections department lieutenants and three sergeants have been reinstated to their former ranks and posts, corrections union officials confirmed Wednesday, after they were stripped of their rank following an alleged incident at the Sousa Baranowski maximum security prison at MCI Shirley in October 2003.

Department of Corrections Deputy Commissioner James Bender this week told the press that the officers were demoted after the alleged beating of an inmate who was waiting to be moved to a segregation unit by a sergeant. The five senior officers allegedly failed to report the assault after all were in the same room at the time of the incident. They were demoted to corrections officers then transferred to other prisons.

Bender said an arbitrator recently found that the allegations against the five guards were justified, but imposed only a 30-day suspension as punishment. They will receive back pay for the period of their demotion and be restored to their previous rank.

”We felt the language (in the ruling) was very significant because (the arbitrator) affirmed our right to discipline them, labeled their actions a ‘conspiracy of silence’ and didn’t find their testimony credible in that they didn’t see what happened in that room,” Bender said.

One of the sergeants in the case was fired for his role in the incident and is awaiting an arbitrator’s ruling on his dismissal.

Hank Harris, executive secretary of the Massachusetts Corrections Officers Federated Union, described the decision as a “huge victory” for the union.

”There are two aspects to the discipline imposed — the demotions and the transfer and re-assignment,” Harris said. “All five were demoted to corrections officers, transferred and had their shifts changed. Work locations, shifts and days off are all awarded by seniority.”

Harris said corrections officers are “disappointed” in the arbitrator’s conclusion that the five senior staff members ‘very likely witnessed or knew how inmate X’s eye was injured but they failed to disclose that in their reports.’

He said the arbitrator also found that the demotion and transfer was ‘substantially excessive’ and ordered them rescinded. Harris also said the arbitrator’s ruling was “somewhat perplexing” to union members because he never really found anyone had assaulted the inmate.

Nevertheless, “That is a huge win for these men and this union,” Harris said. “Commissioner (Kathleen) Dennehy maliciously imposed this unprecedented level of discipline on these officers with the full knowledge that it would take two years to overturn.

”The arbitrator recognized this by saying, ‘Safe to say, as well, their careers and reputations in the department of Corrections have been ruined.’” Harris said. “We currently have a Corrections Officer ‘Bill of Rights’ in the state legislature that will allow officers ‘due process’ prior to the imposition of any disciplinary actions.”

(The Lowell Sun contributed to this article.)