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July 9, 2013 at 11:27 AM

Firings, demotion of Monroe corrections officers overturned

An arbitrator has overturned the firings of three state prison officers and the demotion of a sergeant stemming from the slaying of corrections officer Jayme Biendl at the Monroe Reformatory in 2011.

In his July 7 ruling, arbitrator Michael E. Cavanaugh found that the state Department of Corrections (DOC) only had just cause to issue written reprimands to three of the employees.

Cavanaugh ordered that the employees be reinstated to their original jobs and be paid lost wages and benefits.

Biendl, 34, the DOC officer of the year in 2008, was not found by fellow officers for nearly two hours after being strangled in the prison chapel on Jan. 29, 2011, with amplifier cord. Her killer, Byron Scherf, who was a lifer at Monroe, was convicted of aggravated first-degree murder and sentenced to death May 15.

The DOC concluded that two of the fired officers lied to police, and a third was away from his post outside the chapel. The sergeant was demoted for lack of supervision.

The four were represented by Teamsters Local Union 117 in their challenge of their discipline.

“The arbitrator’s ruling clearly demonstrates that the DOC imposed unfair discipline on its employees in the wake of this terrible tragedy,” said Tracey A. Thompson, secretary-treasurer of the union, in a written statement.

The Department of Corrections today issued the following statement:

“We are reviewing the arbitrator’s decision and will determine what actions to take. We took disciplinary action because of the serious nature of the staff members’ actions – including falsifying documents and lying to police investigators – which does not accurately represent the professionalism of our staff. We can only be an effective agency if we hold ourselves accountable for our actions, which we did in this case.

“We carefully reviewed the actions of staff members at every level of the agency and asked the National Institute of Corrections to conduct a security review of operations at Monroe Correctional Complex. While the National Institute determined that Monroe Correctional Complex is not unique in overcoming complacency in a work environment where the work is inherently repetitive, it does not excuse inappropriate behavior by our staff.

“We have taken every action recommended by the National Institute of Corrections as well as more than one thousand recommendations we received from staff members who work on the front lines. We will continue to build on our success and will continue to hold ourselves accountable for our actions because that is how we earn the public’s trust.”

The Seattle Times is studying Cavanaugh’s 54-page ruling for details on his decision.

Comments | More in General news, Government, The Blotter | Topics: arbitrator, Department of Corrections


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