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Former Oregon Corrections Officer Files $1 Million Lawsuit June 24, 2010

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

A former Oregon corrections officer, recently convicted of assaulting an inmate in 2008, has filed a $1 million lawsuit against the state alleging that he was wrongfully fired from his job at a Salem prison.

Jamin Dumas claims that he was fired from the Oregon State Correctional Institution in 2009 because he raised complaints to prison managers about unsafe working conditions and racial discrimination at OSCI, an 890-inmate medium-security prison in southeast Salem.

The Marion County civil suit says Dumas probably prevented a prison riot in May 2008 when he subdued a defiant inmate who was shouting racial slurs at Dumas, who is black, and nearby black inmates, in a prison housing unit.

The suit alleges that Dumas blocked a punch thrown at him by the inmate, then put the prisoner into a “full nelson” hold and forced him to sit at a desk until a supervising officer arrived. It says Dumas followed proper procedures in defusing a volatile situation.

The suit alleges that prison officials treated Dumas “as though he was guilty of something” and used the incident as “a pretext for terminating him.”

Dumas, a corrections corporal who had worked for the DOC for 19 years, was placed on leave during a state police investigation of the incident. He received a letter March 9, 2009, notifying him that he was being fired. About the same time, prosecutors charged him with official misconduct and second-degree assault, a Measure 11 crime that carries a sentence of five years in prison.

Dumas waived his right to a jury trial. After a two-day bench trial in December, Marion County Circuit Judge Albin Norblad found Dumas guilty of both charges.

At a sentencing hearing in January, Norblad said he remained convinced that Dumas assaulted the prisoner, breaking his collarbone.

“You kind of broke and did the wrong thing,” he told Dumas.

However, Norblad said the wrongdoing fell short of the punishment called for by Measure 11.

“This case is not one that belongs in Measure 11,” he said. “Measure 11 is not in proportion to what he did.”

In deviating from Measure 11, Norblad sentenced Dumas to two years probation.

The civil suit says that Norblad “relied upon the testimony of the inmate in concluding that plaintiff had lost his temper at being called ‘nigger’ and attacked the inmate.”

It asserts that the judge, in finding Dumas guilty, rejected the testimony of experts “who stated that plaintiff’s actions were not only wholly appropriate under the circumstances but that plaintiff followed his training in dealing with this situation.”

The suit portrays Dumas as an outspoken whistleblower who was unjustly fired.

It asserts that he “had gone to management many times regarding the racially hostile working environment” at OSCI.

“This hostility was not limited to DOC employees but extended to black inmates who were treated in a discriminatory manner as to rule enforcement and basic civility, as well as being routinely passed up for jobs inside the institution,” it says.

During his prison employment, Dumas was victimized two times by inmate assaults, according to the suit. It says he complained to management “several times about the unsafe practice of having one officer run a housing unit” occupied by more than 100 inmates.

The suit maintains that Dumas raised complaints again at a meeting about two weeks before the May 2008 incident, citing unsafe working conditions, failure to hire and promote black employees and the refusal of prison management to take action.

It says prison managers fired him “at least in part due to his race and his complaints of racial discrimination.

“Plaintiff further contends that his running for union office, where he would have been a more vocal advocate of racial equality, was a factor in DOC’s actions against him and specifically in his termination.”

As a result of being fired, the suit says, Dumas has suffered severe mental and emotional distress, as well as insomnia, depression, feelings of isolation and symptoms of physical illness.

Dumas was 60 when he was fired, according to the suit.

“The action of the DOC in terminating plaintiff, taking away his ability to support his family, in an economic climate which provides limited employment opportunities to a man of plaintiff’s age, is especially heinous,” it says.

Jennifer Black, a DOC spokeswoman, declined to comment on the suit.

“The Department of Corrections does not comment on pending litigation,” she said.



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