Monday, January 12, 2015
Bucks County prison guard charged with harassing inmates
Posted: Wednesday, January 7, 2015
A suspended Bucks County prison guard is accused of sexually harassing inmates he oversaw including entering cells to watch inmates use the bathroom and reducing punishments in exchange for demeaning tasks such as slapping another inmate’s butt or exposing their genitals, according to a grand jury investigation.
Joseph Mullen, 28, of Lower Southampton, was arraigned Wednesday before District Judge Mark Douple on misdemeanor charges of official oppression and harassment and released on $75,000 unsecured bail. The newspaper was unsuccessful in reaching Mullen for comment Wednesday, and no attorney of record was listed for him in court filings.
Mullen, who has worked as a guard in Bucks since 2010, was suspended Wednesday from his position, but county spokesman Chris Edwards declined to say if he was on a paid suspension, saying it is a human resources matter.
“This type of conduct will not be tolerated and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent when we discover it,” District Attorney David Heckler said in a news release announcing the arrest.
Prison Director William Plantier declined comment on the arrest Wednesday, citing pending criminal proceedings.
The alleged inappropriate behavior took place between July and September 2013, according to the Bucks County detectives who handled the investigation. Last year, the case was handed over to a grand jury, which recommended the filing of criminal charges.
Ten inmates testified in the closed-court proceedings about Mullen’s alleged vulgar and inappropriate behavior and comments, according to court papers. They claimed Mullen let them have “certain privileges” if they performed tasks such as exposing their genitals to him. They said the harassment got so bad they filed informal grievances known as “green slips.”
Court documents also state that two corrections officers testified before the grand jury that they were aware of the alleged actions or witnessed Mullen’s inappropriate behavior. One officer who worked with Mullen on D-block, or Delta, testified that she received “quite a few” complaints that Mullen wanted to strip search inmates, and that he was “selective” about enforcement of jail rules, court documents show.
One inmate, who had a TV inside his cell, appeared to experience the brunt of Mullen’s alleged harassment, court documents suggest. Other inmates on the block liked to gather in the man’s cell to watch TV, though it’s against prison rules for more than two inmates to be in a single cell at one time.
The inmate with the TV was punished on “numerous” occasions for breaking the two-inmate rule including several times by Mullen, authorities said. The typical punishment for the infraction is locking the prisoner in his cell for two hours, though guards can reduce the lock time, according to court documents.
On at least three occasions, the inmate testified that Mullen offered to release him early if he exposed his genitals to him. Another time when the inmate was caught watching TV with two inmates in his cell, Mullen locked them in, according to the testimony. But he released them after they complied with his order to play “patty cake” with each other and two men hugged, according to grand jury testimony.
The inmate with the TV — who was awaiting sentencing at the time — refused to file a complaint against Mullen after the incidents claiming he was embarrassed and feared retaliation, according to court documents. He claimed that the day after he was interviewed by investigators in connection with other inmate complaints against Mullen, he lost his job in the jail, authorities said.
The inmate did tell two people — his sister and a friend — about what was happening with Mullen, authorities said.
In a recorded conversation, the inmate told his friend that Mullen made him expose himself in order to avoid punishments and he complained Mullen constantly made sexual comments, asked inmates about homosexual situations and walked into his cell uninvited when he was using the bathroom and tried to engage him in conversation, court documents said.
The inmate also told his friend that his allegations would not be believed if he came forward because Mullen was a prison guard, and he was telling the friend in the event that he was injured in jail, court documents said. The inmate also wrote to his sister about that alleged sexual harassment and told her not to tell anyone about it.
Other inmates and a longtime county prison guard also claimed that Mullen visited inmate cells uninvited while they were using the bathroom and engaged them in sexual conversations, according to the grand jury.
Mullen also allegedly asked “numerous” inmates to subject themselves to strip searches — including two other D-block inmates who testified before the grand jury. The inmates claimed that strip searches were rarely conducted inside cell blocks and Mullen did not request a sergeant be present — which is procedure — for such searches.
Another time, Mullen also confiscated an inmate’s radio after he refused to provide Mullen with details about his past sexual experiences with a man, according to court papers. When the inmate filed a complaint, Mullen allegedly retaliated by locking him in his cell for no reason, the inmate told the grand jury.
In its presentment, the grand jury specifically noted that it could find no “legitimate” reason within the scope of Mullen’s job duties for him to stand inside inmate cells while they were using the bathroom and converse with them about any topic, including sexual ones.
“To the contrary, the only reason for Mullen to engage in this conduct was to harass, demean and humiliate the inmates involved,” according to the affidavit.