Warden defends himself against criticisms, survives vote to be fired
SUNBURY - The county prison warden defended himself Wednesday against criticisms levied by the majority commissioners, and survived a split vote of the prison board that could have cost him his job.
Warden Roy Johnson accused Chairman Vinny Clausi and Commissioner Stephen Bridy during a prison board meeting of ruining his reputation by way of allegations of mismanagement. He shouted into a speaker phone - Clausi participated in the meeting via a conference call - as the argument escalated.
Clausi has criticized Johnson in the wake of last month's inmate suicide, the second in 10 months. Another suicide attempt was reported Monday night, although Johnson said later Wednesday the incident was a "self-mutilation" initially misrepresented by prison staff (See separate story).
Clausi also accused the warden of botching parole paperwork, preventing the release of inmates on their minimum sentence and allegedly costing Northumberland County $9,000 last month and more than $100,000 in 2013.
They went back and forth about who has put Northumberland County at greater risk of lawsuits and about the details of a citizen's allegation that Johnson was fired from his job at State Correctional Institution-Coal Township, which Johnson vehemently denied.
"I'm fed up with your allegations. Why don't you produce the facts?" Johnson told Clausi. "You cut the budget and do everything you can to undermine what we do."
It was difficult to hear Clausi inside the prison library because fans and the room's acoustics muffled his voice from the speaker phone. He challenged Johnson on the budget issue, denying anything had been cut. He asked if cuts were made as alleged, why Johnson had never before formally complained about prison funding. Johnson said he chose to make due with what was provided.
Bridy objected to Johnson's behavior during the meeting, calling it "borderline insubordination," while Commissioner Rick Shoch said it was self-defense against harsh allegations.
Afterward, Shoch questioned the veracity of allegations made by Mustafa Abuomar, a former imam at the state prison in Coal Township, since he failed to provide any paperwork backing his claims.
Johnson denied Abuomar's claims that he was fired for fighting with a union representative. He said it was the opposite, that he was attacked, but that there were "issues" surrounding his exit. Clausi and Bridy each said their own contacts verified Abuomar's allegations.
Bridy pushed on, chastising Johnson for shouting at Clausi. He also questioned his integrity, pointing to a January incident involving accused murderer Miranda Barbour's inmate visitor sheet. It had listed a newspaper reporter as an approved visitor, although Johnson denied the reporter's request to visit. When asked by Bridy to produce the visitor sheet, the commissioner said the warden misled him by failing to hand over the original that clearly showed the reporter's name.
"You are a liar," Bridy said to Johnson before motioning to have him fired.
The prison board voted 2-2-1, falling two votes short of the board majority. Bridy and Clausi voted in favor, while Shoch and Controller Chris Grayson opposed the motion. Sheriff Robert Wolfe abstained.
The board is a seven-member body. Newly appointed District Attorney Ann Targonski didn't attend. The seventh position is vacant.
Clausi predicted the outcome, repeatedly saying Shoch had the votes to defeat the motion, which Shoch dismissed.
Grayson said he needed more information, and Wolfe thought the entire seven-person board should take part in such a vote.
Bridy said later Wednesday the county has received four letters in the past month threatening lawsuit.