Civil Service Commission decision scolds DOC, overturns one suspension, upholds 2 demotions

An unidentified inmate’s complaint sparked an investigation and the subsequent punishment of 3 Department of Corrections (DOC) employees at the Northeast Correctional Center in West Concord. The disciplined corrections officers appealed and the case was heard by the Civil Service Commission.

In a 43 page decision by the Civil Service Commission, the DOC’s investigatory techniques and motivation were questioned. Referencing the inmates motivation in complaining to the DOC internal affairs unit, the decision stated “[i]t is difficult to believe that the inmate has suddenly become a concerned citizen trying to enforce all the rules for the betterment of the Commonwealth. Self-interest or working an angle is a more likely motivation; possibly to even a score, pressure staff for leniency, stirring things up or just trying to exert an administrative advantage or leverage for a future favor. The efficacy of soliciting or relying on inmates as a reliable source for rule enforcement against their immediate custodians seems to invite potential abuse and manipulation by the inmates, undermining the position and authority of the DOC staff.”

After the DOC investigation, Sergeant Sullivan was demoted and reassigned for failing to report that an unauthorized civilian was in the control room, and for failure to report staff smoking and staff personal cellular phone use. Corrections Officer Monteiro was suspended for using a cellular phone while on duty, for failing to report incidences of misconduct by other employees, and for being less than truthful to DOC investigators. Sergeant Christie was demoted and reassigned for using a cellular phone while on duty, for accompanying an unauthorized civilian on the grounds of the facility, for failing to report incidents of misconduct, and for being less than truthful during the ensuing DOC investigation.

The Civil Service Commission allowed Monteiro’s appeal and overturned his 30-day suspension, however, the appeals of Sergeants Sullivan and Christie were denied.

In a sharp rebuke aimed at the DOC, the decision stated:

“It appears that there was an unfair investigation by the DOC. Instead of admitting the obvious, open and notorious circumstances of Shift Commander Silvia, the DOC chose to investigate the Appellants and summarily impose disciplinary action against them. The DOC never looked into the leaked video of the alleged misconduct which was released to the local Fox 25 TV affiliate news channel. The DOC failed to investigate this leak, but only went through the less pressing matter of sanctioning the Appellants. This shows that there was disparate treatment, selective enforcement and that the Appellants were treated unfairly.

“The total amount of resources in time, effort and cost, including cutting down a tree just to capture on videotape the known acts of Silvia fraternizing or smoking is entirely disproportionate to any reasonably expected positive results. This amounted to a staged media event. The entire process of protracted investigation and resulting selective disciplinary charges was nothing more than cover for the targeted media videotaping of Silvia.

“The overall if unintended result is that inmates in this minimum security, residential- and community interacting facility would become embolden to make more complaints regarding the facility staff. The DOC administration initiated this elaborate investigative process, solely as a result of inmates’ complaints, many of which were found to be unsubstantiated. The administration has affirmed this type of approach to discipline. The fact that personal cell phone possession and use and smoking on the premises was allowed by the DOC at certain recent past periods; augers against the relative seriousness of these alleged violations. The DOC does not have the absolute authority to initiate any type of investigation, against any designated employee without proper consideration, on balance of the costs, the expected results, both positive and negative and without the consideration of other more efficient and effective alternatives.

“Under the totality of the circumstances, it is unfair to drag other officers into the issue when the DOC was really after Silvia for open and commonly known behavior. The DOC has not met its burden of production of credible and reliable evidence on the record to justify the discipline of these Appellants for the charges against them. The overall investigation was seriously tainted, flawed and specifically targeted at Silvia. There is more than an overtone of bias against the Appellants and Silvia and favoritism toward the originally uncharged officers and higher administration officials in this matter.”

The entire Civil Service Commission decision may be found at Monteiro, Sullivan, and Christie v. Department of Corrections.

About Attorney John J. MacLaughlan

John MacLaughlan is Massachusetts licensed attorney as well as a Boston police officer. John is currently assigned to the Youth Violence Strike Force (Gang Unit). He is a graduate of the Massachusetts School of Law with a concentration in Labor Law. He holds a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell as well as a Bachelors Degree in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. John has taught Defensive Tactics, Firearms, Use of Force, Applied Patrol Procedures, and Police Response to Active Shooters to sworn police officers and police academy recruits. Prior to becoming a Boston Police Officer, John served for 9 years as a police officer in Lowell, where he was a member of the Police Dive Team and Patrol Rifle Team.
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