Correctional officer suspended after inmate incident

Employee's actions were insubordinate: Arbitrator

Tony Holder — a correctional officer working at the Women’s Correctional Centre in Headingley, Man. — was suspended without pay for insubordination.

In December 2013, Holder opened the door to inmate B.F.’s cell in the secure unit and a resulting incident led to his being suspended for seven days without pay. At the time of the incident, Holder had a prior disciplinary record.

In the days leading up to the incident, Holder’s supervisor, Brian Benes, restricted B.F. to her cell after she repeatedly acted aggressively toward officers, yelling and spitting at them.

Benes documented that restriction on the electronic Correctional Offender Management System (COMS) and wrote a report on the matter.

Once a temporary restriction was issued, Benes said, it could not be altered except by the supervisor.

After several days, B.F. continued to be a problem. Benes asked Holder and another officer to accompany him to see her and found that her cell was covered with urine and feces. Benes said Holder was frustrated with the situation and wanted to get B.F.’s cell cleaned out.

Benes, however, said B.F. was using the mess as leverage to get out of her cell, and said she could not be allowed out until she had calmed down and resumed following instruction.

After lunch, Holder approached Benes to say he had spoken to B.F. and believed she was ready to follow instruction and clean out her cell. Benes said he told Holder to take either paper towel or wipes to give to B.F. through the mail slot in her cell door and instruct her to clean off the window and the video camera in her cell.

If B.F. could follow those instructions, Benes said, Holder should report back to him and he would lift the restriction.

A few hours later, there was a radio call for Benes to attend the secure unit as B.F. was refusing to go to her room. B.F. had barricaded herself in the sub-unit and was using a plastic wet floor sign as a weapon.

Benes called a code and pepper spray was used to safely return B.F. to her cell. No officers were injured during the incident.

All of the officers involved were required to file reports on the incident. One of the officers reported that Holder told her to open B.F.’s cell to allow him to give the inmate a mop and bucket so she could clean her cell. The officer informed Holder that Benes had restricted B.F. to her cell and Holder replied that Benes had given him permission to open the cell.

Following an investigation into the incident, Holder was suspended without pay. His union, the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union, filed a grievance on his behalf.

Holder said he approached Benes after lunch to tell him he had spoken with B.F. and believed she was willing to follow instructions and clean her cell. Holder said Benes told him to go ahead and that he understood that to mean he should take supplies to her cell.

Holder denied Benes specified he should only provide B.F. with cleaning supplies he could fit through the mail slot in her cell door. He would not have gone to the cell with cleaning supplies without Benes’ specific instructions, Holder said.

B.F. was calm when Holder arrived, but when the door was opened she became aggressive, forced her way out and then refused to return to her cell. While it was clearly, in retrospect, a bad decision to open the cell door, the union argued it was not an act of insubordination on Holder’s part. He had simply misunderstood Benes’ instructions.

Arbitrator Martin Freedman did not accept the argument Holder had misunderstood Benes’ intentions.

“On the issue of whether Benes, either explicitly or by reasonable implication, gave Holder permission to open the door to give the inmate cleaning supplies, I do not accept Holder’s evidence or his interpretation of what Benes said,” Freedman said.

“I find that his actions constituted a violation of the order and direction from Benes not to open the cell door. Such actions were insubordinate.”

As a result, Freedman found the employer established just cause to discipline Holder and the grievance was dismissed.

Reference: Province of Manitoba and the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union. Martin H. Freedman — arbitrator. Keith D. Labossiere for the employer, Helen Krahn for the union. March 11, 2016.

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