Probe lim­ited to war­den

Judge: Board ob­li­gated to look at claims against prison head

The Times-Tribune - - Front Page - BY TER­RIE MOR­GAN-BESECKER

STAFF WRITER The at­tor­ney ap­pointed to in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual abuse at the Lack­awanna County Prison is only re­view­ing claims made against War­den Tim Betti, Lack­awanna County Judge Vito Geroulo said.

The prison board voted last week to ap­point Amil Mi­nora “to in­ves­ti­gate the most re­cent al­le­ga­tions made in the civil com­plaint that is filed in the fed­eral dis­trict court.”

The mo­tion gives the im­pres­sion Mr. Mi­nora will in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions made against all em­ploy­ees, but that’s not the case, Judge Geroulo said.

“I ex­pected it from minute one to be a very brief and very lim­ited scope in­ves­ti­ga­tion de­signed to see if there is any ba­sis to sup­port al­le­ga­tions against the war­den,” said Judge Geroulo, pres­i­dent of the prison board.

Abuse claims

The probe stems from a fed­eral law­suit at­tor­ney Matthew Comer­ford filed in July on be­half of one woman who claims six guards sex­u­ally abused or harassed her and that other guards knew that, but failed to re­port it. Mr. Comer­ford filed an amended suit on Dec. 8 that names three ad­di­tional plain­tiffs and makes new al­le­ga­tions against Mr. Betti and two

“The DA will con­duct an in­ves­ti­ga­tion. He has many more tools to de­ter­mine if wrong­do­ing in the past con­sists of con­duct that con­sti­tutes a crime. We can’t do any­thing that would in­ter­fere with that.” Judge Vito Geroulo On claims of abuse by guards

more guards, Wil­liam Shan­ley and Ge­orge McHale, who are not named in the orig­i­nal com­plaint.

The Times-Tri­bune does not iden­tify vic­tims of sex­ual as­sault.

Judge Geroulo said the prison is not con­duct­ing its own in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the claims made against each guard be­cause the Lack­awanna County dis­trict at­tor­ney’s office is in­ves­ti­gat­ing. Dis­trict At­tor­ney Shane Scan­lon has de­clined to dis­cuss the probe, but Mr. Comer­ford said sev­eral of his clients have been called be­fore a county grand jury.

“The DA will con­duct an in­ves­ti­ga­tion. He has many more tools to de­ter­mine if wrong­do­ing in the past con­sists of con­duct that con­sti­tutes a crime,” Judge Geroulo said. “We can’t do any­thing that would in­ter­fere with that.”

He said the prison is ob­li­gated to in­ves­ti­gate the claims against Mr. Betti, how­ever, be­cause he is in a de­ci­sion-mak­ing po­si­tion.

Tore up griev­ances

The amended law­suit claims Mr. Betti, when he was a deputy war­den, tore up griev­ances one of Mr. Comer­ford’s clients filed al­leg­ing sex­ual abuse. In an in­ter­view last week, he de­nied the al­le­ga­tions.

Mr. Shan­ley is ac­cused of re­peat­edly sex­u­ally abus­ing the same woman in­side and out­side the prison on un­spec­i­fied dates. Mr. McHale is ac­cused of forc­ing an­other of Mr. Comer­ford’s clients to sex­u­ally stim­u­late him be­tween Christ­mas Eve and New Years’s Eve in 2009 or 2010, ac­cord­ing to the suit.

In a Dec. 12 let­ter to Mr. Mi­nora, Mr. Shan­ley’s at­tor­ney, Ger­ard Karam, ve­he­mently de­nied the al­le­ga­tions against his client. He notes Mr. Shan­ley and an­other of his clients, Wil­liam Maguire, passed lie de­tec­tor tests, which they paid for them­selves. At­tempts to reach Mr. McHale for com­ment were un­suc­cess­ful.

Six of the em­ploy­ees named in the July suit were placed on paid ad­min­is­tra­tive leave in June, af­ter Mr. Comer­ford alerted the county to the claims in his suit. Mr. Shan­ley and Mr. McHale re­main on the job, how­ever, as does Mr. Betti.

Judge Geroulo said the de­ci­sion whether to place Mr. Shan­ley and Mr. McHale on leave is up to Mr. Betti, but be­cause he, too, is ac­cused of wrong­do­ing, he can­not make that call.

Once Mr. Mi­nora com­pletes his in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the board will de­cide whether to al­low Mr. Betti to re­main in the post or whether it must ap­point an in­terim war­den, he said. Who­ever is in the job will then de­cide whether to place Mr. Shan­ley and Mr. McHale on leave.

The prison fol­lows the guide­lines of the fed­eral Prison Rape Elim­i­na­tion Act. The act leaves the de­ci­sion on whether to place a prison em­ployee ac­cused of abuse on leave up to lo­cal of­fi­cials, who eval­u­ate each ac­cu­sa­tion on a case-by-case ba­sis.

No con­flict

Judge Geroulo also ad­dressed the is­sue of whether Mr. Mi­nora has a con­flict of in­ter­est based on his re­la­tion­ship with sev­eral peo­ple who were in­volved in the grand jury in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Joseph Black, a for­mer prison guard who pleaded guilty in 2015 to sex­u­ally abus­ing five in­mates, in­clud­ing one of Mr. Comer­ford’s clients.

Mr. Mi­nora, a for­mer as­sis­tant dis­trict at­tor­ney, con­firmed he ini­tially pre­sented some of the ev­i­dence to the grand jury in Mr. Black’s case be­fore the probe was taken over by an­other prose­cu­tor. Mr. Mi­nora’s brother, Lack­awanna County Judge Car­men Mi­nora, was the su­per­vis­ing judge in that mat­ter.

In ad­di­tion, Mr. Mi­nora’s law part­ner, Tom Mun­ley, pre­vi­ously rep­re­sented John Sh­nipes, a for­mer guard who is among the prison em­ploy­ees ac­cused of sex­ual abuse.

Judge Geroulo said he does not be­lieve those is­sues cre­ate any con­flict given Mr. Mi­nora is only look­ing at al­le­ga­tions against Mr. Betti.

“I con­sider Amil to be to­tally hon­est, hon­or­able and a pro­fes­sional of­fi­cer of the court. If he saw even a hint of a con­flict of in­ter­est, he would say to me, ‘I can’t do this,’” Judge Geroulo said

Mr. Mi­nora said he does not be­lieve his con­nec­tions to Mr. Black’s case pre­clude him from in­ves­ti­gat­ing claims against Mr. Betti since they in­volve sep­a­rate mat­ters.

“There is only one para­graph in the en­tire com­plaint about Tim Betti. That is what I’m look­ing at,” he said.

Mr. Mi­nora said he’s al­ready started his in­ves­ti­ga­tion. It’s not clear how long it will take.



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