Ruling Ends Nassau's Attempt to Fire Jail Guard in Beating


 Ruling Ends Nassau's Attempt to Fire Jail Guard in Beating

By THOMAS J. LUECK

     New York State's highest court declined yesterday to hear Nassau County's appeal in the case of a jail guard it attempted to fire after he was found liable in the 1993 beating of a mentally retarded inmate.

The decision by the Court of Appeals, released without comment, means that the guard, Salvatore Gemelli, cannot be fired and ends more than three years of union arbitration, court challenges and appeals.

Mr. Gemelli was fired from his job at the Nassau County jail after a Federal District Court jury found in March 1999 that he had violated the civil rights of the inmate, Thomas Donovan Jr.

The jury in that civil case found that Mr. Gemelli had attacked Mr. Donovan at the jail in a beating that resulted in broken ribs and spinal fractures. 

Nassau County, which had defended Mr. Gemelli, agreed to pay Mr. Donovan $500,000 to settle the case. Mr. Donovan's suit was the fifth brutality case brought against Mr. Gemelli by former inmates, costing the county $900,000 in jury awards and out-of-court settlements.

The Court of Appeals decision yesterday leaves in force an arbitrator's finding that a provision in Mr. Gemelli's union contract made it impossible for the county to fire him. 

"It's a union thing," said Michael Adams, president of the Sheriff Officers Association, the union representing Nassau County correction officers. "We are very happy that the court has upheld our contract and required the county to respect its language." 

He said it was not clear whether Mr. Gemelli, who has not worked in the Nassau County jail since he was fired and is now on disability leave, would return to his job. He also said the decision left open the possibility of applying for back pay.

A Nassau County official who has followed the case, and spoke on the condition that his name not be used, said the court decision yesterday was "troubling because it may have an impact on other cases" of correction officers who have been disciplined for mistreating prisoners. There were more than 100 claims of abuse by guards working under Sheriff Joseph J. Jablonsky in the 1990's.

In the case of Mr. Donovan, the Nassau County district attorney declined to open a criminal prosecution, and a 1995 internal investigation by the Sheriff's Department found no wrongdoing by Mr. Gemelli. 

After he was fired, Mr. Gemelli first filed a union grievance, and an arbitrator ruled that he could not be fired because the correction officers' contract imposed an 18-month limit on disciplinary actions.

Nassau County challenged that finding in State Supreme Court, which ruled that Mr. Gemelli "was justly discharged." That ruling was reversed in May by the Supreme Court's Appellate Division.

In declining to hear the case, the Court of Appeals upheld the Appellate Division ruling.

Source: NY Times


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