Probe of Guard Pact Is Ordered
A federal judge Wednesday ordered an investigation into the state’s labor contract with California’s correctional officers, asking whether it gives their union too much control over prison management.
Underscoring his continuing concern about the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., the judge asked a court-appointed special master to examine whether the contract hinders the state’s ability to conduct fair, thorough investigations of guard misconduct.
The judge also condemned a 2003 decision by then-Department of Corrections Director Edward Alameida to drop an investigation of guards to appease the union. He chided Alameida for misconduct but declined to order sanctions due to his deteriorating health and retirement.
In another move detailed in a 26-page order, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson took immediate action at Pelican Bay State Prison, ordering union officials removed from a prison committee that reviews the use of force by officers. Union officials have served on the panel for the last five years.
It is “inappropriate,” the judge said, for the union to have a role in such meetings, where wardens “candidly discuss potential discipline” of officers.
Prison reformers called the judge’s sweeping order a milestone in the drive to improve the state’s employee disciplinary system, which has been widely criticized as weak and inconsistent. The order also was hailed by legislators who believe that interference from the guards’ union has impeded prison reform.
“The judge knows that the influence of the union is what ails the Department of Corrections,” said Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough). “It’s good news that the court is stepping in.”
Union Executive Vice President Lance Corcoran disputed her assessment, saying that contrary to what critics say, “we are not trying and never have been trying to run the Department of Corrections.”
“Individuals with great influence with the court are painting an inaccurate picture of CCPOA,” he said.
Corcoran said he was encouraged by another portion of Henderson’s order that gives the union the right to ask questions, receive documents and otherwise “defend our contract” as it is investigated by the court.
“Judge Henderson is known as a judge who believes in due process, and we are hopeful ... that he would not let the nature of our work influence the fact that we remain simply a labor union,” Corcoran said.
Henderson, who sits on the bench in San Francisco, issued his order as part of a case that began at the Pelican Bay prison in Crescent City, on the coast near Oregon, and has evolved into a broader legal fight.
The judge announced that he would not pursue civil contempt charges against Alameida, despite concluding that he had improperly quashed a perjury investigation of several Pelican Bay officers after a union official had called him about the case.
Henderson said Alameida had engaged in “gross abuses of the public trust” by choosing “to shut down the investigations in order to appease the CCPOA.”
The judge also singled out Alameida’s deputy director in charge of internal investigations, Thomas Moore, who still works for the department. Henderson said Moore would face civil sanctions -- a fine, probably -- unless he could explain why he sent a letter that misled the court and sought to cover up Alameida’s actions.
Neither Alameida nor Moore could be reached for comment Wednesday. A department spokesman said the judge’s order speaks for itself.
Henderson’s order is the latest chapter in a civil rights case that led the judge to place Pelican Bay under his supervision and name John Hagar as his special master. In 1995, Henderson ruled that brutality by guards at the maximum-security prison was violating inmates’ rights.
In recent months, Hagar and the judge have expanded their focus to include the department’s internal disciplinary system. In a report earlier this year, Hagar said the union’s influence at the highest ranks of corrections leadership was thwarting efforts to punish wrongdoing by guards.
In July, Henderson echoed those concerns and threatened in a letter to Schwarzenegger administration officials to place the state’s 32 prisons under a federal receiver.
The judge said he was particularly disturbed by the labor pact renegotiated this summer between the state and union, which deferred raises for officers but granted the union new powers, protections and benefits worth millions of dollars.
In Wednesday’s order, he gave Hagar power to investigate whether the contract perverts the state’s employee disciplinary system.
One contract provision that is particularly controversial requires investigators to turn over information about a disciplinary probe -- including the accuser’s name -- before internal affairs interviews are conducted. Investigators say that practice deters inmates and whistle-blowers from reporting misconduct for fear of retaliation.