Prison guards suspended after Facebook posts about using force

Source. JournalStar.com

By CORY MATTESON / Lincoln Journal Star | Posted: Thursday, February 25, 2010

Three prison guards have been suspended over a conversation on the Facebook page of one of them about using force against an inmate — and enjoying it.

The comments in question were written on Caleb Bartels’ Facebook account. Statements in support of his actions appeared under the names of fellow Nebraska State Penitentiary corrections officers Shawn Paulson and Derek Dickey.

Former state Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha notified Attorney General Jon Bruning of the matter this week and asked that the guards be fired.

Department of Correctional Services Director Bob Houston said Thursday the three guards have been suspended pending an investigation.

The investigation will look at what was written and what, if anything, happened at the prison that would substantiate the comments.

“When you work in a prison a good day is getting to smash an inmates face into the ground….for me today was a VERY good day,” Bartels allegedly wrote on Feb. 8.

A post attributed to Dickey describes the incident as what happened after an inmate “didnt want to transfer to (the Lincoln Corrections Center) …. and he told the Caseworkers and the Unit Manager that he was gonna kick our (butts) if we tried to move him …hahahaha.”

Other comments in the online conversation included “very satisfying isn’t it!!!,” and “hoho a fight?”

Houston said inmate abuse is not tolerated in the prison system, and that the department documents all incidents in which force is used. That could include something as minor as a corrections officer grabbing an inmate’s arm.

“When they occur, we document anything,” Houston said.

Surveillance cameras are in Nebraska prisons not only to help corrections workers monitor inmates, but also to detect signs of inappropriate behavior or suspected abuse, Houston said.

He didn’t say if anything relating to the alleged incident discussed on Facebook had been documented.

If there was a use of force incident report that pertains to the comments, Houston said, that would be part of the investigation.

The corrections department is working with the attorney general’s office to determine if the officers committed any abuse or violated employee policy, he said.

“We are taking these allegations very seriously,” said Allen Forkner, a spokesman with Bruning’s office.

Although the statements in question were made on a private social networking site, Houston said, they could violate employee policy.

“We have a three-decade standing state policy that employees can’t act in ways on- or off-duty that affect our operation or ability to function,” he said.

Facebook posts and other activity on personal social networking sites fall under that policy’s umbrella, Houston said.

The Nebraska State Patrol dismissed trooper Robert Henderson in early 2006 after patrol officials discovered he had joined a racist group and posted messages on its Web site.

“It is not in the State’s nor the public’s best interest to retain such employees at taxpayers’ expense,” Chambers wrote about the prison guards in a letter to Bruning’s office.

Chambers said he found out about the posts from someone who called his weekly cable TV program in Omaha and discussed the matter over the air.

“Unfortunately the public may get the impression that such reprehensible misconduct is known about and approved of by state officials, in view of the brazenness with which the parties publicly disclose their deeds and attitudes,” Chambers wrote.

None of the suspended corrections officers returned messages sent Thursday to their Facebook accounts.

By 6:30 p.m. Thursday, none of the three suspended officers’ pages could be found.

Reach Cory Matteson at 473-7438 or cmatteson@journalstar.com. Nancy Hicks and The Associated Press contributed to this report.