Fired prison guards get jobs back
MONROE - An arbitrator’s decision orders three corrections officers who were fired after the murder of corrections officer Jayme Biendl by an inmate in 2011 back to work.
The decision also orders the state Department of Corrections to reinstate the rank of a fourth officer who was demoted from a supervisory position after the murder.
Arbitrator Michael Cavanaugh found serious problems with each officer’s actions the night Biendl was strangled inside the chapel at the Washington State Reformatory within the Monroe Correctional Complex. But those actions warranted reprimand and not termination or demotion, Cavanaugh ruled.
The DOC had accused the officers of misconduct and lying to investigators. The arbitrator found that “institutional complacency” that had developed over time within the reformatory also contributed to the circumstances that led to the murder. The arbitrator also found the DOC failed to meet the high standard of proof needed to fire employees for lying.
Corrections officer David Young was found to be out of position when inmates were being cleared from the chapel and moved back into their cells. Biendl was the only officer assigned to monitor the chapel. The night of Biendl’s murder Young couldn’t recall whether he saw Biendl leave the chapel after the inmate movement.
Inmate Byron Scherf strangled Biendl the night of Jan. 29, 2011. Scherf slipped back into the chapel after all the other inmates were cleared. He was sentenced to death in May.
Corrections officer George Lyons assumed the chapel had been cleared that night and entered it in the official logbook as such. Corrections officer Charles Maynard failed to fully inspect the chapel after Scherf was reported missing and found inside the chapel. Shift Sgt. Chris Johnson failed to address Young’s habit of being out of position during his shifts. Johnson testified that he had too much paperwork that kept him in his office and a staff that didn’t get along.
The arbitrator found that Young and other officers often failed to be in proper position during inmate movements. To single out Young for a systemic problem was too harsh, Cavanaugh ruled.
Two separate outside investigations into Monroe prison policies and procedures found systemic problems with enforcement of the rules and came back with suggestions on improving safety.
“Instead of focusing on the underlying issues and the need for sweeping reform, DOC engaged in unfair finger pointing at the line corrections staff who risk their lives every day to keep our communities safe,” said Tracey A. Thompson, secretary-treasurer for Teamsters Union Local 117. “While some improvements have been made since Jayme’s murder, staff safety remains an issue in our State’s prison system. Until it is adequately addressed, the need to improve prison safety for staff must be DOC’s number one priority.”
The DOC is reviewing the decision and will determine what actions to take.
The union challenged the DOC’s decision to demote and fire the officers and an arbitration hearing took place at the beginning of this year. All four will receive back pay.
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