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Guards suspended for not watching boot camp inmates
By Jill Harmacinski
Staff writer

MIDDLETON - Two correctional officers who worked at a county boot camp program were suspended for failing to supervise inmates who ran amok and punched holes in jail property in late September.

Sgt. Stephen Sobotka was suspended for one day, and correctional officer Michael Moran for one day after disciplinary hearings held Tuesday, said Paul Fleming, spokesman for Essex County Sheriff Frank Cousins.

The hearings were held after two inmates ran through hallways at the Correctional Alternative Center in Lawrence and punched holes in walls and doors there. Both inmates faced criminal charges. Yesterday, the correctional officers learned of their suspensions, Fleming said.

"They failed to uphold their responsibilities as instructors in the boot camp," Fleming said. "These two officers had the responsibility of overseeing those particular inmates."

While the offenses took place in September, Fleming said Cousins opted "in the interest of fairness" to hold the disciplinary hearings after the Nov. 2 election, "so the decision would not appear politicized," Fleming said.

But Jerry Enos, president of the correctional officers union at the jail, said the suspensions are political payback. He said the guards were punished not for failing to supervise inmates, but for supporting fellow correctional officer William Murley in the Nov. 2 sheriff's race. Cousins beat Murley by approximately 88,000 votes.

In a story in yesterday's Salem News, union members complained of retribution after Cousins announced he was ending the boot camp program, in which Murley is an instructor. Cousins said the six-year-old camp is ineffective and the space is needed for a new inmate reintegration program.

"In my 14 years at the sheriff's department, this is the first time any officer has been disciplined because of damage that's been done by an inmate," Enos said. "The reason this is happening is because both (Moran and Sobotka) are Murley supporters."

He said both officers will appeal their suspensions and take the matter to arbitration.

Fleming, however, said the suspensions have nothing to do with retribution. They are punishments for officers who failed to do the job of properly supervising inmates, he said.

"Any discussion that this is retribution is complete and utter silliness," he said.

On the night of Sept. 28, Moran and Sobotka were in charge of the boot camp program when two inmates ran through the facility, causing $235 in damage, Fleming said.

The inmates were taking part in a "motivational run" when they apparently went out of control and started punching holes in doors and walls, Fleming said.

Both inmates, David Helfant, 35, of Rockport, and Josh Everhart, 17, of Gloucester, were later found guilty of damaging a correctional institution and ordered to pay a combined $235 in damages, according to court papers.

In letters informing them of their suspensions, both Moran, a Marblehead resident, and Sobotka, a Salem resident, were told, "You failed to account for the supervision, security and safety of inmates under your control. This is a clear dereliction of responsibilities incumbent on a corrections officer."

The officers will serve their suspensions starting on their next scheduled day of work, Fleming said.

Staff reporter Jill Harmacinski can be reached at 978-338-2652 or by email at [email protected].
 
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