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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Can We Afford Prison Guards With A Domestic Violence History?

Domestic violence is an epidemic affecting one out of every four women. The overwhelming majority of female prisoners - 82% - sufffered serious sexual or physical abuse as children. There is a compelling public interest, obviously, in preventing those who prey on women, either physically or sexually, from ever becoming or remaining a corrections officer. Northampton County is using this argument in court right now to justify the termination of a corrections officer with a history of domestic violence. It is in the hands of Judge Emil Giordano.

Shawn Hoffert, an elected constable in Bethlehem's 13th ward, has also been a corrections officer at Northampton County jail for the past 23 years. But he was fired by Northampton County after an October 17, 2014 fracas with his wife, who also happens to be a constable. Review of his criminal history reveals this has been a pattern. So is working out deals. In 2004, he was issued a harassment citation after he allegedly slapped his wife. Assault charges were filed against him in 2006, although it appears that he them reduced to harassment or dismissed altogether.

In the most recent incident, Bethlehem police responded when his Hoffert's wife called 911 and reported that her husband was drunk, had choked her, hit her repeatedly and then threatened to kill her. They observed that she was bleeding from her temple, and she was transported to Muhlenberg Hospital. She later obtained an emergency Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order, but as often happens, never made it final.

Hoffert was administered a breath test, and registered a 0.157, about twice the legal limit. He admitted drinking, said his wife started the fight and he may have pushed her once to get away. he also claimed she "had a way of producing her own injuries."

Hoffert was charged with terroristic threats, simple assault, simple assault/physical menace and harassment. He ultimately pleaded to four summary charges of harassment and was placed on probation for 360 days. But at his arbitration hearing, he denied abusing his wife and described himself as a pillar of the community. A union VP testified that Hoffert was told by former Corrections Director Arnie Matos that he'd get his job back if the criminal charges "went away."  But Director Dan Keen, who succeeded Matos, had a different view and fired Hoffert.

In his Opinion, which you can read below for yourself, Arbitrator Thomas G. McConnell concludes that Hoffert did engage in acts of domestic violence, but was unwilling to conclude that he choked, hit or threatened to kill his wife. He noted her absence from the equation, although that is common in instances of domestic violence. He ordered Hoffert reinstated without back pay.

The County appealed, using labor lawyer Dave Steckel. In his view, "it is inconceivable and morally reprehensible that a person who displayed (on multiple occasions) such little regard for the safety and well being of a female should be placed back in charge of an inmate population."  He also argues that reinstatement "presents a substantial risk of harm to the inmate population, particularly the female inmate population, as well as to the female Corrections Officers and other female staff, due to Mr. Hoffert's troubling history of committing physical violence against women, and further it unnecessarily exposes the County to significant potential liability in the event Mr. Hoffert once again exhibits physically abusive behavior towards women."

The County was aware of the 2004 harassment incident, which Hoffert apparently failed to disclose initially. I don't know if Hoffert's supervisors even know about the 2006 assault charges. Clearly, there is an established pattern.

I'm all for giving a guy a second chance and would speak up for any corrections officer, firefighter or cop who is fired over a drunk driving charge. But physical violence against women is different. Allowing him to remain in county employment would undermine a public policy that condemns violence against children. Unfortunately, those who are in law enforcement have a bigger domestic violence problem than even the NFL. It is two to four times more likely than in the rest of the population, likely because these are stressful jobs.

I have no idea how Judge Giordano will rule. But I believe the County's position in this case, right or wrong, strikes a blow for women's rights. This, and the County's decision to terminate Madame X, is evidence that that it cares about both the inmate population and other corrections officers. .  
Shawn Hoffert Arbitration


Anonymous said...

woman abusers. Hmmm, well we know all about them.

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Anonymous said...

This statement in the article:

The County appealed, using labor lawyer Dave Steckel. In his view, "it is inconceivable and morally reprehensible that a person who displayed (on multiple occasions) such little regard for the safety and well being of a female should be placed back in charge of an inmate population."

Could be used against some ALmidistrators at the jail, too!

Bernie O'Hare said...

That observation was made by the union and noted by the arbitrator. There is no question that, in the past, there have been different rules for different people. The rules were enforced against people of color, and not enforced against whites or people in power. As true as that is, it is no justification for allowing disparate treatment to continue. There is a compelling public interest in reducing domestic violence, which exists in high percentages in both the law enforcement community and in female inmates. It also appears to me that Hoffert has no remorse for his behavior and is used to covering these things up. In fact, he was disciplined before, not for the domestic violence in 2004, but for not reporting it. I am unaware whether prison administrators were ever made aware of the charges lodged against him in 2006.

I hate to see people fired. More often than not, I defend them when that happens. It kills me that the union did next to nothing for two secretaries who were improperly fired for naughty emails, or for MDJ employees who were improperly denied raises, but is fighting for a man who clearly has displayed a pattern of domestic violence. It is this kind of absurdity that turns people away from public sector unions, as important as they are.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I have deleted a comment. I will not allow anyone to advocate physical violence on this blog towards anyone.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe that your workplace belongs in your home nor bedroom. They have NO BUSINESS in this. Call this what it is and that's a witch hunt. As I have seen what has unfolded here between two people who I really don't know one at all and the other I like for him being hi own person. I don't think what happens between two people I am to judge as there are NO winners in this mess. Its the court that should be making decesion here and not us.

Chilio Pepper said...

Imagine how horrible it is, to be coerced into carrying drugs for an abusive partner, jailed for it and then be confronted by women-beaters as your "guards".

The definition of hell.

George Ruth said...

a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time:

Domestic violence is not an epidemic. It is the result of too many women (and in many instances men,too) choose to date, live with or marry people who have known issues with violence. Why do we turn every societal ill into a disease? Weight gain, smoking, drug use, etc are all classified as diseases in a way to gain sympathy and free medical treatment for what is 'often, but not always' a life's choice.

Bernie O'Hare said...

George, I like the word, which is contained in one of links, although you are technically correct. I do consider it an infectious disease that spreads across all incomes, ethnicities and ideologies.

Anonymous said...

Lest be careful about throwing around all these accusations. There may be tomes when something such as rough sex can be misinterpreted and used as domestic violence. Without a clear pattern, one must be careful to believe such accusations. Who knows how many innocent people have been accused of it.

Chilio Pepper said...

@4:17 Are you SERIOUS?

"Rough sex" is consensual.

Anonymous said...

I'll go out on a limb and say 4:17PM is from Jim Gregory. If memory serves me right, he tried to make the claim that "rough sex" might have caused any injury that his ex-girlfriend had, which, honestly, is a good defense on his part as it serves two purposes: 1) excuses his violent behavior and 2) makes her out to look like a tramp in the court of public opinion as she consensually engaged in this behavior.

Fortunately, for his victim, it didn't work and despite his time in prison, he has failed to take any responsibility for his behavior.

Newsflash 4:17: A "pattern", clear or otherwise, of domestic violence does not need to be proven.

Study this next sentence for a very long time, before posting again, "The most skilled offenders are those who rarely, if ever, have to use hands-on physical violence to assault their victims, as they are capable of assaulting their victims in very subtle and benign ways". Slut-shaming them, as you did, is just one example.

Anonymous said...

anon 6:49 sounds like a man hating woman. People including many women know that some use "domestic violence" as a weapon against men to get them in trouble or to evade their own actions. Don't pretend to know what you don't know. Rough sex exists and is a real thing for some men and women.

Anonymous said...

I've know Shawn for many many years and consider him a friend. The physical relationship between him and his wife has been back and forth for years and his wife isn't always the victim she claims to be. Told him many years ago he should leave her or it could end up like this. I wish him the best.

Anonymous said...

Jim: listen. I'm not the one you want to take on, especially here.

I can't believe I am writing this, but listen to BOH. Stay off of the blogs and stay away from the woman that BOH sued.

If you want to get into specifics about how and why you ended up in prison and how you think you will sue the friggin' world and end up victorious, you are so wrong.

BTW, I'm a chick, not a dude.

Anonymous said...

Dropping three misdemeanors for a guilty plea to summary is enabling.

Anonymous said...

Let's shine a light on the current administration and expose some of their past transgressions. You have a deputy warden who ended up in federal court for his alleged role in hogtying a female inmate and leaving her like that for nearly 7 hours, you have another administrator who cost the county nearly $100,000 for repeatedly harassing a former female officer, and yet another administrator who served underage females alcohol. If Officer Hoffert must go then the administrators should follow him out.

Anonymous said...

Seems similar to the NFL. You beat a woman and then the Union files an appeal to either reduce the suspension or in this case get your Job back. Why on earth would the County want this person back?? when will unions fight for what is right and not for the people who do wrong? Sad !

Anonymous said...

I,also know Shaun and like him as a person.many other serious events have happened there.very serious,and admin gets away with it somehow......kinda how (important people)get cured of Cancer...hmmmm.....I guess it's ....."who you know"