Nebraska State Penitentiary Guards suspended over Facebook posting

Update: LINCOLN — Three Nebraska prison guards have been suspended after one allegedly posted Facebook comments expressing enjoyment at roughing up an inmate, and the others supported his actions. State prison officials said the three were suspended pending an investigation.

LINCOLN — A man who identified himself as a Nebraska State Penitentiary guard posted a Facebook comment this month expressing glee at roughing up a inmate.

“When you work in a prison a good day is getting to smash an inmates face into the ground. … for me today was a VERY good day,” stated the Web posting on the Facebook social networking site page of Caleb Bartels.

Two other men identified in state records as prison guards, Shawn Paulson and Derek Dickey, posted responses that appeared supportive, including this one from Dickey: “very satisfying isnt it!!!”

Now all three find themselves in hot water, with former State Sen. Ernest (Ernie) W. Chambers calling for their dismissal.

In a letter this week to Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, Chambers wrote that such “reprehensible misconduct” discussed so brazenly makes the three unfit to serve.

“Given the nature of their work and the power they exercise over inmates, they have shown themselves to lack fitness to hold employment,” Chambers wrote.

Attempts to reach the three guards were unsuccessful Wednesday. Messages left for them through a prison public information officer and through their Facebook pages were not immediately returned. Their home phone numbers were either not listed or not in operation.

A spokesman for Bruning said Wednesday that the attorney general had seen Chambers’ letter and was taking the allegations “very seriously.”

Robert P. Houston, state corrections director, said his officers “do not abuse inmates.”

“We take anything that concerns inmate abuse very seriously,” Houston said. “It is not part of the character of our department to abuse inmates.”

He cautioned that so far the allegations had not been confirmed and that counterfeit Internet postings were possible.

Force is sometimes required by corrections officers, Houston said, although he declined to comment further because the incident described on the Facebook page had not been substantiated.

The case is reminiscent of another pursued by Chambers and Bruning: the dismissal of a Nebraska State Patrol trooper who had joined a white supremacy group affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan. The trooper had posted comments on the group’s Web site.

The Nebraska Supreme Court last year upheld the firing of Trooper Robert Henderson, and his certificate to work as a law enforcement officer was revoked by a state police council.

Houston said his department has disciplined, and even terminated, employees for inappropriate Internet postings.

He said the allegations raised Wednesday were the first involving possible inmate abuse.

Chambers said the allegation was forwarded to him by a caller to his Omaha cable television show.

An official of the Nebraska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said that while employees have freedom of speech rights to post anything they like, the consequences of such postings are an unsettled area of law.

Facebook pages, which are available to anyone who signs up, make employees’ words much more public, said Laurel Marsh of the ACLU.

“Part of it is just going to boil down to good common sense,” Marsh said.

Proofpoint Inc., a California Internet security firm, reported last year that in a survey of companies with more than 1,000 employees, 8 percent had dismissed workers for improper posts on social networking sites, double the number during the previous year.

Facebook has gotten prison guards and other law enforcement officers in trouble elsewhere.

A British guard was fired last year for befriending 13 current and former inmates via Facebook.

A year ago, a Washington State Patrol cadet was asked to resign after posting pictures of himself drinking out of a pitcher of beer and waiting for a ride after a night of partying.

A Kennewick, Wash., police officer was fired last year for making disparaging remarks on a blog about his classmates at a police training academy.

Contact the writer:

402-473-9584, paul.hammel@owh.com

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