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By ROB MARGETTA, Standard-Times staff writer

A lawsuit filed by five correctional officers who allege that Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson retaliated against their union activities with suspensions in 2000 is scheduled to go to trial this week in U.S. District Court in Boston.
The plaintiffs say that Sheriff Hodgson used his internal affairs division to interrogate them about the union.
At a roll call in November 2000, the sheriff vowed to get rid of "troublemakers," saying, "I will fire you and it will take two years for you to get your job back. Meanwhile, you'll be making $5 or $6 an hour," according to a memorandum filed by the plaintiffs' lawyer, Philip N. Beauregard.
Officers David Davignon of Acushnet, David Miller of Fairhaven and David Gouveia have said they were exercising their First Amendment rights by discussing union activities while on duty at the Bristol County House of Corrections.
Bruce Assad, the sheriff's special counsel, has argued that the three were soliciting other officers for participating in picketing and other union activities. Some of the other officers felt intimidated and pressured by the questions, he said.
Ash Street Jail guards Edward Morris Jr. of Acushnet and Thomas Presby of Fairhaven were suspended for leaving a control area unattended. They have said that other guards have left the area unattended, but they were singled out for their union connections.
Officer Morris was part of a union subcommittee involved in negotiating a new contract, according to court documents. Officers Davignon, Gouveia, Miller and Presby were union stewards.
The plaintiffs' pretrial memo, filed by Mr. Beauregard, says the officers were suspended without pay, ranging from 10 days to 45 days, and were given inferior work assignments.
"Our people were punished for mentioning picketing to one another while on the job," Mr. Beauregard told The Standard-Times.
He said the sheriff often encouraged officers to attend parades and other public events, but "the minute that the guards talked about their picket, they'd get punished."
Mr. Beauregard's memo further states that in October 2000, Sheriff Hodgson distributed a written directive prohibiting the discussion of union issues during roll call.
On Nov. 17 that year, the sheriff attended a roll call and told the plaintiffs, "Some officers still think there is a campaign going on. I am the sheriff. I was elected. If you don't like it, get another job," according to the memo.
While Officers Davignon, Gouveia, Miller, Morris and Presby were off duty, they attended an informational picket on Nov. 24, 2000. In late November, they were suspended, Mr. Beauregard's memo says.
Stephen Hocking, business agent for the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union, said the state Labor Commission already has ruled on a similar case against the sheriff.
The union filed a complaint on behalf of Officer Miller and two of the other current plaintiffs over the same suspensions, he said. The Labor Commission ruled in favor of the officers. Sheriff Hodgson has filed an appeal.
"We won that exact same suit," Mr. Hocking said.
Officer Miller also won a case in arbitration stemming from the same complaint, Mr. Hocking said. He said the officer was compensated for the pay he lost due to his suspension.
In past interviews, Sheriff Hodgson has said his disciplinary actions were justified. Yesterday, his office would not comment on the matter.
"Because this suit has now been brought to federal court, we're not going to comment on it," department spokesman Bernie Sullivan said.

This story appeared on Page A4 of The Standard-Times on November 6, 2005.
 
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