A former youth corrections employee alleged in a lawsuit Friday that he was fired for blowing the whistle on staff misconduct and a coverup at the Provo Detention Center.
Mark Birch, who worked as a corrections officer and counselor from January 1994 until his termination in April 1997, said youth corrections officials engaged in a "pattern, practice and systematic failure" to report criminal acts involving inmates against staff and staff against inmates.Named as defendants are Gary Dalton, youth corrections director; Darrell Piepgrass, regional director; Odell Erickson, director of the Provo center; supervisors Brad Peterson and Brett Davis; Konstantin Markides, director of youth receiving; and six John Does.
Birch said in the suit that officials retaliated against him for participating in a grievance meeting with co-workers and for reporting suspected criminal activity.
Dalton said late Friday that he hadn't seen the lawsuit and couldn't comment on its allegations. However, he said the division conducted an internal investigation into a number of allegations regarding activities at the Provo Detention Center last year and that those issues were resolved.
According to the lawsuit, the allegations were resolved by firing Birch and "intimidating other youth corrections employees into silence."
Filed in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, the lawsuit listed a "sampling" of alleged misconduct at the Provo Detention Center, including:
- A male juvenile was strip-searched by a female staff member. That same employee had explicit sexual conversations with male juveniles and rubbed lotion on their backs.
- During an investigation of a thwarted escape, officers found a map to that same female staff member's house hidden underneath an inmate's mattress. The investigation was quashed.
- The female employee was allowed to resign and given a favorable letter of recommendation for a job with the Utah County Sheriff's Office.
- After one inmate beat up another, smaller boy, one of the corrections officers told the assailant's case worker that the victim "deserved it."
- There was a pattern of co-mingling serious offenders with non-serious offenders.
- Officials failed to report and prosecute an escape by two juveniles and took no action against inmates who assaulted staff members, including Birch.
- Acts of destruction of property and vandalism occur regularly at the center and go unpunished.
The suit said a number of workers held a meeting on April 5, 1997, during which they discussed the alleged unsafe conditions and criminal activity at the center and agreed to file a grievance. All the participants backed out within 24 hours "out of fear of their jobs," the suit said.
A tape recording of the meeting was later turned over to youth corrections officials and used in an investigation into alleged leaks to the news media, the suit said.
Everyone who participated in the "plot against the administration" has been harassed, placed on informal probation, had their jobs threatened "and otherwise intimidated," the suit said.
Birch himself was summoned to Piepgrass' office on April 25, 1995, and was fired for revealing information about the female staff member's conduct to the Utah County Sheriff's Office, the suit said.
According to the suit, Birch had an "excellent employment record with excellent ratings by his supervisor" and had been frequently praised for his performance. At the time of his dismissal, he was one of the few youth corrections employees pursuing police officer certification. He intended to make corrections and law enforcement his career, the suit said.
"At almost every interview (Birch) has obtained since being terminated, he was told he would not be offered the position and would be removed from eligibility to be considered for future openings because he had been terminated," the suit said.
Birch is seeking $18,000 in back pay, $3 million in compensatory damages and punitive damages to be determined at trial.