Allegheny County jail guard takes his firing to court

Wants his job back

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An Allegheny County Jail guard who authorities say drew on at least one inmate's face with marker and sprayed disinfectant on another says he never got a chance to defend himself before being fired.

In a court filing submitted last week, the Allegheny County Prison Employees Independent Union says an arbitrator made the wrong call in siding with the county on the firing of Kent Ryan, a corrections officer accused of abusing inmates.

According to the filing, Mr. Ryan was accused of spraying disinfectant in a prisoner's face in November 2011, as well as marking up inmates with a marker. When questioned by an investigator, the correctional officer denied the charges, explaining he may have accidentally sprayed an inmate with water while they watched the Steelers-Chiefs game.

Mr. Ryan, who lives in McKeesport, had worked at the county since 2008. He made $36,975.54 as a correctional officer.

Mr. Ryan admitted he once drew on an inmate with a marker because the prisoner had made fun of him, according to court records.

Investigators pulled surveillance tapes supporting the charges and moved forward with termination proceedings. But while jail officials scheduled a mandatory pre-disciplinary meeting with Mr. Ryan in December 2011, they canceled it, meeting instead with a union official and summarily firing Mr. Ryan.

In a grievance filing, the union said jail leaders violated Mr. Ryan's constitutional right to due process, firing him without giving him a chance to say defend himself.

But arbitrator Thomas McConnell Jr. disagreed, ruling in March that while jail officials were wrong to cancel the pre-termination meeting, they still gave Mr. Ryan ample opportunity to explain himself.

"It is understandable that the employer might want to move quickly to remove Mr. Ryan," he wrote in his decision. "I agree with the County's assertion, in its post-hearing brief, that Mr. Ryan's conduct can be characterized as 'sadistic,' 'vile,' and 'outrageous.' "

The union is seeking to overturn Mr. McConnell's ruling and give Mr. Ryan his job back.

Allegheny County solicitor Andrew Szefi said he could not comment on an ongoing legal matter. Neither the jail employees union's attorney nor Mr. Ryan could be reached for comment.

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Andrew McGill: amcgill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1497.


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