Lawsuit Promised Against Sheriff's Department in Jailhouse Harassment Case
By Frank Parlato
A Buffalo lawyer intends to file a lawsuit alleging that a civilian employee at the Niagara County Sheriff's Department sexually harassed at least one female prison inmate under his watch and in the absence of any sworn Sheriff Department officers.
Robert Maranto of the law firm of Andrews Bernstein Maranto & Nicotra PLLC said he is filing a notice of claim to be served this week against Niagara County.
"There is zero question this case will be sued. This will wind up in litigation," Maranto said.
His suit will allege incidents occurred in the laundry room of the Niagara County jail without supervision from uniformed deputies.
"I think the case is very solid," Maranto said. "You are a woman in jail and you should be protected from people who are going to prey on you, particularly in a sexual way. This is a sexual harassment case. There was improper touching. It is more than verbal harassment."
The Reporter learned the alleged perpetrator has quit under, what he and others have said, the threat of being investigated for the incidents alleged and faced possible criminal charges.
He denies he did anything improper except to inappropriately touch one inmate by "flicking" her pony tail in the laundry room where no cameras were present.
The victims claimed he did much more.
A second alleged victim told the Reporter that she too was harassed by the same civilian employee. On top of that, a letter in the Reporter's possession from a third inmate suggests she too may have been victimized.
Multiple calls made to her cell phone and her mother's phone went unanswered.
As of press time, there is only one party to the pending lawsuit.
The alleged civilian employee, suspected to be the target of the lawsuit, is Patrick Ryan, 49, of Niagara Falls, who has worked at the jail in a "civilian" or a non sworn officer capacity, since 1998, in the laundry facility.
Ryan resigned in April under pressure that he could face charges from his actions with the alleged victim.
"I didn't do anything," Ryan told the Reporter. "I quit my job because I can't fight the county. I don't have enough money to fight for my job. That's the reason I left.
"The Sheriff's Department told me they would charge me with misdemeanors. It was very intimidating," Ryan said. "They had no evidence, but I would have to go in and prove my innocence. You either try to prove your innocence in court and spend a lot of money. Ten, 15 thousand down the road. I don't have money. There is no way I could fight the county. It is a huge, tough situation."
Niagara County Sheriff James Voutour confirmed Ryan resigned his position. He said he could not comment on specific details of the allegations but said, "Ryan quit on his own. He was made aware of the allegation. He was made aware of a possible criminal investigation and he chose to quit," said Voutour." As a general policy, I won't tolerate inappropriate actions on the part of any employees. When brought to our attention, we investigate and take immediate action. We don't just take the inmate's word."
One of two women who claimed to have been harassed by Ryan in the laundry area of the prison is Danielle McKean, also known as Danielle Leighton, and is the plaintiff in the looming lawsuit against the county.
"When I first started to go down (in the laundry room) Ryan would start hitting my pony tail and hit me with the cart in my butt," McKean said. "After a month, he placed his hand on my ass. It was done with an open hand. He would say inappropriate comments. When I was bending over, he would say 'I bet your husband likes that.'
"When (other inmates and I) would be in the restroom, he would bang on the door. He thought it was funny, but it wasn't funny. One time, when Chyna (another inmate) was in there, the door flew open, and he seen her sitting on the toilet. I would always leave the door locked."
McKean, 32, is in jail on a driving while under the influence of drugs charge and was recently sentenced to 3.5 to 7 years. She is the mother of a one year old child.
McKean told the Reporter she became addicted to heroin when she was 22, was charged for cashing forged checks when she was 26, violated probation, then later parole and it took her six years to get out of the system on the original charge that got her only probation.
Three of those years she spent in state prison.
She was free only six months before she was back in the system again.
She was placed in diversion in July 2011, when she pleaded guilty to a six-count indictment issued after her car struck a 79-year-old pedestrian in front of Niagara Falls City Hall on June 8, 2010.
In drug court, she was repeatedly sanctioned and jailed, got married, got pregnant, and while in and out of jail, had a miscarriage.
At the end of November, she was sanctioned by Judge Mark Violante for two months and after her husband bailed her out and learning she was pregnant again, they fled to California.
"I think I would have had a miscarriage if I stayed," McKean said. "I'm glad I left for California, for if I didn't, I would not have a son right now. I would do it all over again if I had to."
The McKeans were in California for ten months, enough time for her to deliver her baby, a healthy ten pound 12 ounce, 23 inch boy, named Daniel Jr. before she was caught on October 23, 2012.
They extradited her. And her husband, Dan took responsibility for three week old Dan Jr. The baby has not seen his mother since.
Back in Niagara County, Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas jailed Leighton, then sentenced her on April 12 for the original pedestrian accident.
Leighton was sentenced to state prison for 3½ to seven years.
In jail, she was a good inmate. Her classification officer, Jason Gibb, wrote of Danielle that she showed "a good work ethic. … She does the laundry for the entire jail population that ranges from 400 to 500 inmates. She also washes, dries and folds clothes….The officers in her housing area also do not have any complaints about her….inmate Leighton has worked hard and has been very goal oriented during her incarceration."
The second woman to complain about Ryan has a much more serious charge against her. She is Arlene Combs and is facing charges that could land her with life in prison.
Alleged to be a member of an upstate New York stolen goods ring, whose involvement in a 2010 home invasion robbery, of 78-year-old Homer Marciniak, a retired janitor, in rural Medina, Combs was charged with murder.
Marciniak died of a heart attack within hours of being tied up, punched in the face and threatened at gunpoint by thugs who made off with his comic book collection valued at more than $40,000.
Combs helped arrange the robbery, according to federal prosecutors.
She worked in the laundry room under Ryan for 18 months.
"Ryan kicked me in the butt regularly," Combs told the Reporter. "I don't think he sees anything wrong with it but it is a very uncomfortable situation when you are an inmate and there is nothing you can do about it. He flicked my pony tail 100's of times. He playfully ran the laundry cart into my butt. He spoke about my butt being big. I do have a big butt."
Combs quit the laundry room job because of Ryan and filed a statement with Captain Lawrence Eggert of the Sheriff's Department.
Asked if he did the things the women alleged, Ryan said, "Not a chance. God, no. I know better than that. The only thing with (Danielle) I ever done to her which I didn't realize was such a big deal was I touched her pony tail."
"No reason. There was one of the girls upstairs and that they always talked about her swinging her pony tail all the time when she walks down the hallway. Everybody always teased about that one girl and how her pony tail swung."Were you friendly with Danielle?
"As a working environment. It was straight business, simple as that." Yet you touched her pony tail?
"Touched the pony tail and that's all. That's what this is all about." Danielle's lawyer, Maranto was incredulous.
"All he did was touch a woman's pony tail and he was informed that he would be charged criminally or he had to quit?," the lawyer said. "I suspect there is much more to the story than he is claiming. It is egregious conduct, which is why I suspect he quit. "What my client described to me, and my understanding of the situation at the jail with respect to his being fired, are very consistent."
Referring to Danielle's history of anxiety, Maranto said, "The psychological component of being confined with a history that she had, coupled with an individual who's taking advantage of a young woman who is extremely vulnerable and creating extreme mental anguish in that person is actionable."
According to an inmate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, after Ryan quit the prison, laundry service stopped for a week. "We heard through the grapevine that he had been fondling female inmates around there and that's why he got fired," the male inmate said. This particular inmate however wasn't convinced of Ryan's guilt.
"It's easy for one of these females to say whatever, but you never know. There are a lot of scams going on in this place," he said.
AFSCME Local #182, Union Leader Bill Rutland came to Ryan's defense.
"He had to resign or face potential investigation or maybe charges against him." Rutland said. "But the real problem is they put him in this position. He wasn't trained, he was alone with these women and there were no cameras to prove one way or the other. It is just their word against his."
Kathy Newton has worked for the county for 26 years. She is the vice president of AFSCME, local #182. She also worked at the laundry facility in the jail, actually having been replaced by Ryan.
"He was unfairly treated," she said. "There is no training for civilian employees. None. As far as I am concerned the whole thing is hearsay. There was never cameras in the laundry room…. Pat Ryan deserves the benefit of the doubt. I would need proof. They don't have proof. He was railroaded. Let's face it, those girls aren't there for skipping Sunday school. If they can make a buck, they can make a buck."
Sheriff Voutour disputes the idea that Ryan was too naive to work alongside inmates. "He was trained to work in that unit. He took the job knowing that it's inside a jail and obviously there were going to be inmates. He accepted that position." According to Rutland three men in the blue collar union were asked in succession to replace Ryan after he quit. They refused and were suspended without pay for three days.
Voutour defended the need to have discipline in the jail.
"This is a police department. … When they were asked to do it and when they refused an order, they were sent home. These employees… work inside a jail. They work with inmates every single day they are there. They knew their job is inside the jail. … They go inside cells and fix toilets. I don't know how they think this is any different…. and say they are not doing laundry." Rutland said he has filed grievance after his union workers were suspended.
"We filed a grievance for three employees that were asked to go into the same laundry facility where Pat Ryan worked and with the same girls that made the accusations (after Ryan quit). That work that is not in their job description."
|Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr.||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||
May 21, 2013