Arbitrator orders fired SCI Pittsburgh guard to be reinstated

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In an order released Wednesday evening, an arbitrator told the state Department of Corrections to return to work a sergeant who was fired as a result of allegations of abuse of inmates on the State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh's F Block.

John Michaels sometimes ran F Block during the 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift -- the time when, inmates have said, corrections officers singled out sex crimes convicts for hazing and alleged abuse. He was fired because, officials said, he did not report that guards were identifying sex offenders and creating a hostile environment for them.

The Pennsylvania State Correctional Officers Association backed Mr. Michaels' grievance.

Mr. Michaels told arbitrator Ronald Talarico that the practice of finding out which inmates were sex criminals was authorized by a unit manager, according to the arbitrator's report.

Mr. Talarico found that the state didn't provide evidence that Mr. Michaels knew of abuses, nor that there is a specific policy barring guards from asking inmates about their crimes.

The arbitrator wrote that "the evidence is crystal clear" that Mr. Michaels "did not commit any of the violations" for which he was suspended in April 2011, and then fired. He ordered immediate reinstatement to his job and payment of lost wages and benefits, minus any unemployment compensation Mr. Michaels received.

Mr. Michaels was never charged criminally in relation to alleged abuses on F Block. Seven officers were charged, of whom three had charges dropped or dismissed, and one, Tory Kelly, faces trial this week.

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Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord


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