Jail officer files promotion grievances

January 26, 2011

A Prince George's County jail lieutenant has filed whistleblower grievances with federal, state and county officials alleging that supervisors retaliated against him because of an interview with a reporter.

Lt. Scott Devine had told The Washington Post that jail officials were warned of a problem with cellblock door locks more than two years before a band of inmates disabled the locks on the their cell doors and stormed out to attack guards.

Lt. David Wall, president of the Prince George's Correctional Officers Association, which represents jail officers, including those at the rank of lieutenant, confirmed that Devine had filed grievances with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Maryland Commission on Human Relations and a county personnel panel.

Wall said Devine would not comment directly because doing so would invite more harassment.

Devine alleges that he was passed over for a promotion he had earned because he had confirmed to The Post that he had warned jail officials about a problem with cell doors more than two years before the February 2009 disturbance.

In an October memo to Wall, Devine said that county Corrections Director Mary Lou McDonough and another official met with him that month and told him that he was being "skipped over" for promotion to the rank of captain.

In 2009, Devine had scored second among five applicants in the captain's promotional exam, according to an internal corrections memo.

John Erzen, a spokesman for the Corrections Department, said neither McDonough nor Gregory O. Harris, who is now civilian deputy director for operations at the Upper Marlboro jail, would have any comment on Devine's allegations because the issue is a personnel matter.

Devine wrote that McDonough told him that he was being passed over "because she thought that I needed a couple more months of 'seasoning' and that I did not make good decisions."

Devine wrote that Harris has targeted him for harassment since the April 10, 2009, news story.

In the article, Devine said he wrote a memo in 2007 to Harris, who was then a lieutenant colonel, that said an inmate had demonstrated how other inmates disabled the locks of their cell doors by jamming plastic spoons into them. The cell doors are controlled electronically. An electronic panel monitored by jail officers gives the false impression a cell door is closed and secure, even when its lock has been disabled, the memo said.

"Inmates would do this, and the officer will have no way of knowing the cell door is breached," Devine wrote.

County officials questioned the authenticity of the memo, saying a copy of it could not be found in department files, but they provided no evidence that it was fabricated.

In an interview, Devine confirmed writing the memo and recalled handing it to Harris. Harris has since retired and been re-hired as a civilian.

A little more than two years after the memo was written, at least eight inmates burst from cells on a second-floor tier and, with their faces covered with bed sheets, threw trash cans and chairs at officers on the ground level, union officials said.

The disturbance was quickly quelled, with no major injuries to guards or inmates.

Correctional officers said inmates were upset because they had been locked down for a week and were not allowed to watch the Super Bowl between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals.

Wall said the lieutenant who scored third on the 2009 promotional exam has been promoted to captain.

"I've been in the department 18 years," Wall said. "Devine is the first commander ever to be skipped over for promotion."

Wall dismissed the idea that Devine needs more seasoning. Wall said that Devine has worked in the county Corrections Department for more than 14 years, and that before that he worked in the Maryland state prison system for about three years. Devine has received outstanding performance reports in the past three years, Wall said.

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