Prison board: Former officer entitled to old job, back pay
SUNBURY - A correctional officer/maintenance man at Northumberland County Prison who was fired in June for stealing copper pipes from the jail before being acquitted of all charges is entitled to get his job back and receive approximately $95,000 in back pay, minus any income earned since he was suspended in February 2009.
During a brief emergency meeting Monday morning, members of Northumberland County Prison Board unanimously agreed to abide by an arbitrator's ruling that allows Shane Hoffman, 40, of Sunbury, to be reinstated to his former position and claim back pay.
A motion by President Judge Robert B. Sacavage was approved to have Hoffman inform the prison board "expeditiously as possible" if he plans to reclaim his former position. A letter will sent to Hoffman's attorney and union informing them of the prison board's decision to abide by the arbitrator's ruling.
Northumberland County Commissioner and prison board chairman Stephen Bridy said county officials
were notified about the arbitrator's ruling Jan. 24, which prompted them to call for a special meeting.
Bridy reserved comment about the ruling.
On July 20, Hoffman was found not guilty by a jury of institutional vandalism, theft and receiving stolen property for allegedly stealing copper pipes from the prison and selling them. The three-day trial was presided over by Northumberland County Judge William H. Wiest. The jury deliberated approximately 90 minutes before rendering its verdict.
Upon being interviewed outside the county courthouse after the trial, Hoffman stated, "I'm just thankful it's over. I want to thank the jury for seeing through the baloney and finding me not guilty of all the charges."
Hoffman insisted his arrest was "politically driven," claiming former warden Ralph "Rick" Reish was looking for a reason to fire his father-in-law and former deputy warden John Conrad.
Hoffman, who was initially suspended without pay from his position before being terminated June 8 by current warden Roy Johnson, said he didn't know at the time if he planned to fight to reclaim his prison job or seek legal action against prison officials for firing him and initiating the investigation that led to the charges filed against him.
Hoffman couldn't be reached for comment Monday.
Board must comply
After the prison board meeting, District Attorney Tony Rosini said the board had no choice but to comply with the arbitrator's ruling to reinstate Hoffman and award him back pay.
Rosini said, "There was sufficient evidence to charge Mr. Hoffman. His case proceeded through the magisterial district justice office and an omnibus pre-trial hearing before going to trial. He was acquitted of all charges by a jury of his peers, which sometimes happens. I respect the jury's verdict."
Hoffman, who was hired as a correctional officer Oct. 5, 2005, was earning $11.34 per hour at the time of his firing. Hoffman was terminated for violating the Northumberland County personnel manual and the Northumberland County Prison code of ethics.
Hoffman was charged by then-Sunbury Patrolman Wade Lytle with the offenses for allegedly stealing copper pipes from the prison and keeping approximately $320 he received for scrap metal instead of turning the money over to the prison. The charges were filed in connection with incidents that occurred between 2008 and early 2009.
During the trial, Lytle said Hoffman allegedly was in charge of taking scrap metal from the prison, such as old aluminum cots, brass and copper pipes, to Jeff's Recycling Center near Paxinos.
Lytle said Hoffman was supposed to turn in the money to Conrad.
The officer said Hoffman was also charged with breaking into the locker of fellow maintenance employee Don Keeley. Lytle said nothing was reportedly stolen from Keeley's locker.
Conrad was suspended with pay Feb. 4, 2009, by the county prison board before being fired March 25, 2009, after 18 years of service at the prison. The reasons for Conrad's suspension and firing were never revealed by the prison board.
Lytle said Hoffman's charges were not related to Conrad's suspension.
On Nov. 15, a lawsuit filed in 2009 against the county by Conrad and his wife over his firing was settled for $87,500.
Conrad alleged a conspiracy against him, wrongful termination, defamation and violation of due process, equal protection rights and whistleblower rights in the lawsuit. His wife's claim was for a loss of consortium.
The couple had filed the suit in U.S. Middle District Court and named the county, its prison board, Sacavage, Rosini, sheriff Chad Reiner, commissioner Vinny Clausi, former commissioners Kurt Masser and Frank Sawicki, former county controller Charles Erdman and Reish as defendants. On Nov. 14, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III dismissed all defendants from the suit, except the county.