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California prison guards kept getting paid after department moved to fire them, report finds

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A California correctional officer kept getting paid for nearly three months after prison officials decided to fire him for beating an inmate without cause and then lying to cover it up.

Another officer received pay and benefits for two months after officials decided to fire him for punching his girlfriend in the stomach, pushing her and knocking a telephone from her hand when she tried to call for help.

Those cases illustrate a pattern of delayed discipline for state correctional officers, according to an Office of the Inspector General’s report published this week. The semi-annual report analyzed how the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation handled 233 of the most serious internal investigations it closed in the second half of 2018.

In general, officials at the department conducted thorough investigations, appropriately determined what disciplinary actions to take and decided in a timely manner what to do based on their findings, the report concluded.

But in 48 of the 97 cases in which the department took disciplinary action, it took longer than 30 days, violating department policy, according to the report. Delays ranged from one day beyond the 30-day time frame to 140 days beyond it, according to the report. In total, the delays cost taxpayers about $108,000.

“Delayed service of disciplinary actions violated policy, delayed action intended to address significant unacceptable performance, and adversely affected the accused peace officers as they continued to live under clouds of suspicion and uncertainty regarding their employment,” the report states.

Department supervisors referred 988 instances of suspected employee misconduct or criminal activity to its Office of Internal Affairs in the second half of 2018, and the office made decisions on 974 of the referrals, according to the report. CDCR employs about 27,700 correctional officers.

Some of the incidents referenced in the report occurred earlier than July 2018. The officer who hit an inmate multiple times and lied to cover it up did so in September 2017. He ended up resigning before he was fired. A second officer who allegedly held the inmate during the incident and then lied to the Office of Internal Affairs also resigned in lieu of termination, according to the report. The department unnecessarily spent $32,500 on their pay and benefits before they resigned, the report states.

Inspectors found delays had worsened compared to the cases it reviewed in the first half of last year, when 29 percent of disciplinary actions were delayed.

A handful of attorneys contributed to many of the delays, according to the report. Among 29 attorneys who drafted disciplinary actions, seven were responsible for 56 percent of delayed disciplinary actions, the report states.

One attorney, whom the report doesn’t name, was responsible for 281 days of delay, costing the department $46,800, the report states.

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But the department’s supervisors, its Office of Internal Affairs and its Office of Legal Affairs all play a role in delays, according to the report. On average, it took the Office of Internal Affairs almost as long to complete simple cases involving just one interview as it took it to complete more complex investigations, the report states.

“We appreciate the OIG’s input, and will be reviewing the cases they cite,” CDCR spokeswoman Vicky Waters said in an emailed statement. “We are also evaluating the report to identify any necessary actions to improve the department’s disciplinary process.”